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LI B RAHY 

OF THE 

UNIVERSITY 

OF ILLINOIS 




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A WANDERING STAR. 



A WANDERING STAR 



BY 



Lady FAIRLIE CUNINGHAME 

AUTHOR OF 
"THE SLAVE OF HIS WILL," ETC. 



IN THREE VOLUMES 



VOL. I. 



HonDcm 
WARD AND DOWNEY 

12, YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN 

1892 



LONDON 

PRINTED BY WOODFALL AND KINDER, 

70 TO 76, LONG ACRE, VV.C. 



¥£3 
F ILw 









A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER I, 



^ 



" He telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them 

all by their names." 

" Encore deux billets .... ste-el two 
teeckets," shouts the pale-faced croupier of 
the petits chevaux table, which to-night is 
drawing greater crowds than ever into the 
great domed hall of the casino at Dieppe. 

The croupier has been shouting himself 
hoarse the whole evening ; the Japanese 
bowl, with the green or blue tickets stuck 

| into its notched rim, has been handed to 
every one within the range of his long arm ; 

; the little horses, marshalled in a row, seem in 
a hurry to be off; the crowd are standing 
three deep round the strong iron railings that 

VOL. I. B 

4 



2 A WANDERING STAR. 

enclose the croupier and his miniature race- 
course ; and five-franc pieces are handed 
across people's shoulders, and over the flower- 
decked bonnets of a few fat Frenchwomen, 
who, in spite of the stifling heat, sit the whole 
evening closely wedged together, below the 
level of those who stand around. 

An altercation takes place from time to 
time, about the money that is staked. 

If the Republican Eagle does not flap his 
wings on these five-franc pieces, and if his 
counterfeit is replaced by the arms of Mexico, 
then is the cart-wheel politely returned, and 
a war of words is the result. 

Whizz ! — the horses go round ! — the fat 
Frenchwomen feel that their fortunes are at 
stake, and with strained eyes follow the 
gyrations of the grts, the noir> the alezan, 
or whichever horse they have drawn in 
the lottery. 

Two or three turns round the table, and 
then the gallop ends in a walk ; No. i and 
No. 5 seem to be making a dead heat of it ; 
shrieks come from the holders of those num- 
bers ; careful measurements with a string are 



A WANDERING STAR. 3 

taken by the croupier, and then, without 
even a glance at the owner of No. i, who is 
appealing to all the gods for aid, he places 
eight of the clumsy pieces into the skinny 
hand of a terrible old hag, who has got a pile 
of similar coins before her on the railing. 

The heat is African, the odours unspeak- 
able, and seem composed of equal parts of 
gas, paraffine, and patcheouli — the company 
could not be more mixed ! A band of smart 
young men in evening clothes, and light 
overcoats, who answer to the proudest and 
best known names in France, have come 
over from Trouville for the races, and repre- 
sent " le sporting" ; in other words, all that is 
most chic. Beside them, a party of Dieppe 
shopkeepers sit at their ease on one of the 
crimson velvet sofas that line the walls. 

Respectable country people, from many a 
Norman gentilhommerie, have driven in for a 
gay evening at the casino, in the one week 
in the year that Dieppe is en fete. 

Members of la haute cocotterie walk round 
the tables, generally two together, and arm- 
in-arm ; their clothes strike awe into the 

B 2 



4 A WANDERING STAR. 

stoutest heart, the pearls or diamonds in their 
ears are of fabulous size, and the priceless 
Valenciennes lace that ed^es their skirts and 
petticoats, sweeps the dust and dirt of the 
casino floor. 

The English colony at Dieppe hang a 
good deal together, and form a little society of 
their own ; but Russians, Germans, Rouma- 
nians, Bulgarians, are more cosmopolitan, 
and are all represented here. 

Every one talks a different language ; it is 
the Tower of Babel over again. 

Outside, on the terrace, a light breeze blows, 
a thousand stars are shining, small waves 
break gently on the shingly beach, and in 
the intense stillness one hears the wash of 
the waters, that suck back the smooth pebbles 
as the tide falls. 

But there is no one to mark the beauty of 
the night — the world in general prefers the 
crowd, noise, and vulgarity inside. 

Among the throng we have not yet noticed 
a party of good-looking people who stand 
somewhat aloof from the table, and from 
those who surround it, though one of the 



A WANDERING STAR. 5 

men of the party now and then joins in the 
crowd, and wins or loses many five-franc 
pieces. 

There is no doubt of their nationality. 
English is written in every line of face, 
figure, dress, and general appearance. 

Truth to say, we do not think they are the 
worse for it ! 

The two good-looking men in blue serge, 
and the two pretty women who wear the same 
useful material, hold their own here without 
much trouble. To be sure, the enormous 
erections of ribbons and feathers, and the 
hats enwreathed with flowers, that crown 
the French female head make the English- 
women's sailor hats, whose only adornment is 
the Squadron burgee, painted on the white 
ribbon, look noticeably plain, but their sim- 
plicity is a positive relief to the eye, and 
very handsome are the faces that they shade. 

The elder of the two, the one with the 
dark hair, flashing eyes, and brilliant colour- 
ing, is Lady Julia Darner, a very fashionable 
lady indeed, and wife of the tall, good-look- 
ing man who is staking his five-franc pieces 



6 A WANDERING STAR. 

at the tables. He is the owner of the 
schooner yacht Gitana, R.Y.S., at present 
lying inside the basin in Dieppe harbour. 

Her companion, without being quite a foil 
to her, is decidedly not a rival, for Lady 
Julia is an acknowledged beauty, and Cissy 
Grahame is only a moderately pretty, very 
smart little girl, who looks well everywhere, 
never is out of place anywhere, and is the 
chosen companion of many pretty fast 
married women, without being particularly 
fast herself, for she knows when to efface 
herself, and when to come to the front, and 
reaps a good many advantages from her 
different friendships. 

Brian Beresford, the fourth of the party, is 
the very type of a well-looking, well-mannered, 
and well-born young Englishman. He is a 
great friend of Colonel Darner's, and a still 
greater friend of Lady Julia's ! It is her 
Ladyship's habit always to have an adorer, 
but as a rule their adoration is rather a one- 
sided affair. She is not so indifferent this 
time — she never does things by halves ; and 
certainly, if exaction and jealousy are signs 



A WANDERING STAR. 7 

of the master passion, then she is indeed in 
love with handsome Brian Beresford. She 
is even capable of being jealous of Cissy 
Grahame, who is incapable of giving her the 
least provocation, and she is annoyed, in spite 
of her own sense of the absurdity of it, every 
time he looks at the pretty, or noticeable, or 
outrageously dressed women, who pass and 
repass before them. 

" Look at that girl, standing near the 
door," says Brian suddenly to Colonel 
Darner, as the latter returns from one of his 
fruitless expeditions to the tables, where the 
little horses gallop round manfully, where the 
croupier, and an old Frenchwoman, in a 
large red hat, are shrieking against each 
other, and where he has left two or three more 
of his stock of five-franc pieces. " Tell me, 
did you ever see a more beautiful face ? I 
don't think she can be anything but English," 

Colonel Darner's eyes followed the direc- 
tion in which Brian is looking. 

" That girl over there, in the blue frock, do 
you mean ? Upon my word, she is worth 
looking at," says the Colonel. 



8 A WANDERING STAR. 

" She and that old man have been stand- 
ing there ever since we came here," con- 
tinues Brian; "and he has never taken his 
eyes off the table, except to write down 
something on a piece of paper — some sort 
of calculation, I expect, though surely no one 
could be lunatic enough to have a system at 
petits chevaux. After no end of writing, he 
suddenly took five francs out of his pocket,, 
and put it into the girl's hand. She seemed 
to know exactly what to do, for she dashed 
into the crowd, got a ticket from that 
scoundrelly-looking croupier, and went back 
to her father. I wish you had seen their 
faces when the right number was shouted 
and she went to claim the stakes ! Joy is 
not the word for it, though the old man didn't 
look the least surprised. He seemed as if 
he had expected it all along. Look at them 
now. I believe they're going to do it again."" 

As he speaks, the old man hurriedly puts 
into the girl's hand two more large pieces ; 
she once more mingles with the crowd, and, 
either because she is so slim and slight, or 
by reason of her firm resolve to reach the 



A WANDERING STAR. 9 

goal, she makes her way right into the front 
rank, and is near enough to drop her pieces 
into the Japanese bowl, and to receive in 
exchange two blue tickets. The old French- 
woman in the red hat is not yet appeased, 
and as she sits there, flushed and panting, 
her trembling hands are raised to the ceiling 
as she calls down maledictions on the pale- 
faced, hook-nosed Israelite, who she declares 
has cheated her. 

The girl is wedged in among the crowd 
behind her, and her fair face looks fairer than 
ever by reason of the contrast. 

It is a face that once seen might haunt a 
man for many a long day. The colouring is 
so lovely, the golden hair falls in such 
pretty curls on the low forehead, the small 
head is so wonderfully well set on the 
slender neck, and, above all, there is such a 
look of "race ' in the girl's face and bearing 
that she seems curiously out of place, alone, 
in a noisy crowd, in a second-rate casino. 

Her eyes are fixed on the little horses as 
eagerly as those of the ancient Jezebel who 
sits near her, her slim body bends over the 



IO A WANDERING STAR. 

railings as if she could incite the grey horse 
to further exertions, her eyes shine like 
stars, and her lovely colour comes and 
goes. 

On gallop the horses. Now they slow — 
slower and slower — and finally the grey 
horse is passed — -just passed by the black ! 

" Numero 2 gagne," shouts the croupier ; 
— the girl and the owner of the red hat are 
both plunged in the depths of woe, and the 
girl, with drooping head and sad eyes, slips 
out of the hurly-burly, and goes to rejoin her 
father near the door. 

"Who, in the name of wonder, is that 
man ? ' says Colonel Darner, thoughtfully. 
" I have seen him before — I have known 
him — of that I am perfectly certain — but 
where is the question. Strangely enough, 
I seem to know the girl's face too ; but that, 
I suppose, is quite impossible. I have it," 
says he at last, in great excitement, turning 
to his wife. " Julia, do you know who 
those are who are standing there ? That 
is Ralph Fitzpatrick, and the girl who is 
with him is poor Lady Mary's daughter! 



A WANDERING STAR. I I 

Can't you see it all ? She's as like all the 
Vivians as she can be — that lovely hair, and 
all the rest of it, only that little waif and 
stray is the best-looking of the whole lot. 
Fancy running across them here ! He has 
been dead — practically dead — for more than 
twenty years. I wouldn't have felt more 
surprised if he had really risen from the 
grave. Of all the downfalls I ever heard, 
Brian, there never was a downfall so sudden 
as his. He disappeared in one day. I 
daresay you are not old enough to have 
heard anything about it, and I forget the 
exact particulars. All I remember is that 
foul play at cards was proved against him 
beyond the shadow of a doubt, and from 
that day he was done for. He was one of the 
smartest and best-looking men in London — 
tolerably popular too. He had married Lady 
Mary Vivian, as nice and as pretty a girl as 
ever stepped. I knew her well, for the 
Vivians are cousins of my own. He had 
the ball at his feet, if you like — hard-up now 
and then, I dare say, but not more so than 
some of the rest of us ; but he was always 



12 A WANDERING STAR. 

full of plans and schemes, and this last 
scheme of his to corriger la fortune by 
the Polish trick at ecarte was a fatal one. 
Lady Mary stuck to him in spite of the 
Vivians ; we saw her death in the papers 
not long after he went under, but I had 
forgotten there was a child. As for him, 
I haven't set eyes on him for twenty years, 
and have hardly heard his name mentioned. 
One thing, however, I am quite sure of — 
that Ralph Fitzpatrick is standing there." 

Brian listens with the most intense — the 
most eager interest. 

" Don't you mean to speak to him, 
Darner ? That unfortunate fellow has seen 
you, and recognized you. I saw his expres- 
sion change a minute ago when he looked 
this way. It is an old story now, and if that 
girl's mother was a relation of your own, it 
seems a shame to take no notice of her 
child." 

" Shall I?' says Colonel Darner, doubt- 
fully. " I mustn't ask her Ladyship's advice 
then — she would put her veto on it at once ; 
but it would be a shame to see Mary Vivian's 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 3 

daughter, and to cut her dead. Poor things ! 
I expect they're in low water too, and I 
might be of some use to them — anyhow, it 
could do us no harm." 

" You're too late this time," says Brian 
grimly. 

A crowd had surged through the great 
swing doors, close to which father and 
daughter had stood the whole evening, and 
the stream, as it passed, had carried them 
away in its tide. 

The tall man, with stooping shoulders 
and miserable face, and the slim girl, in 
her faded cotton, had gone out into the 
night. 

" Nothing to be done but to get back to 
the yacht now," says Colonel Darner, ''and 
we must find out Fitzpatrick to-morrow, 
Brian. You needn't say anything about it 
to my lady, though." 

Colonel Darner's worst enemies, if he has 
any, never impeached his bravery ! Never- 
theless Lady Julia's black eyes have a very 
subduing effect on him. It is a curious fact, 
and one of which her husband is well aware, 



14 A WANDERING STAR. 

that she is nearly always right, and always 
has her own way. 

" I have found out where Fitzpatrick 
lives," says Colonel Darner to Brian, as the 
two smoke on deck, after luncheon, the next 
day. 

The awning is up — a necessary precau- 
tion — for the sun is burning, and the quay, 
alongside which the Gitana is moored, is 
lined with blue blouses, and market-women 
in high white caps and sabots, who halt on 
their journey from Le Pollet to the fish- 
market, to discuss the " yack ' and its 
owners in broad Norman French. 

Brian and the ladies have wandered about 
the town all morning. They have stood 
under the Gothic aisles and heard the organ 
play in St. Jacques — they have stept from 
its arched portals to the brightness and 
colour of the Place du Ouesne on a market- 
day — have bought flowers and fruit from old 
women in bonnets blancs, sitting under the 
shade of huge red umbrellas — and have 
shopped in the Grande Rue, also full of life 
and colour, but whose shops, full of ivory, are 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 5 

somewhat fly-blown and dusty, and whose 
last new Paris fashions are not so very new 
after all. Then past the fountain of the Rue 
de la Barre, and through the cool church 
of St. Remi — dark even on the brightest 
summer day — till they reach the casino, to 
look on the waves that sparkle in the lovely 
sunshine, and to see the shingly beach 
crowded with bathers and idlers of all sorts. 

Lady Julia feels tolerably happy, for 
Brian seems more devoted than ever, and 
Miss Grahame effaces herself, and reads a 
"Tauchnitz" in a shady corner. 

A cool, delightful luncheon to go back to 
is not the worst part of the morning's work ; 
and cigars and coffee on deck, while the 
ladies are below reading novels, suits the 
two men exactly. 

Colonel Darner goes on talking. "I am 
glad I have found out about Fitzpatrick, 
for I expect he, or, at any rate, that lovely 
girl of his, are a good deal in need of 
a helping hand. It seems they have lived 
here for the last fifteen years or so. If he 
had committed murder, I couldn't for the life 



1 6 A WANDERING STAR. 

of me help feeling for the poor fellow. 
Fancy this place in winter, when the hotels 
and best houses and shops are shut up, and 
a northerly gale is blowing! It seems they 
can't even stay here in summer, they are so 
frightfully hard-up. They go to a village 
called Arques, about four miles from here, 
and live there among the peasants — as poorly 
as the peasants themselves, I expect. I'll tell 
you what I think of doing, Brian. When you 
and my Lady go to the casino this afternoon 
I shall charter one of those rattletrap pony 
carriages and drive there. He can't do me 
much harm at this time of day, and I want 
to see if I can be of use to poor Mary's 
daughter in any way." 

" You are a good fellow, Darner," returns 
Brian ; " you couldn't do anything better, and 
I will look after the ladies while you are 
away." 

A long, uninteresting, dusty road leads to 
Arques. To an artist or student of history, 
its old castle, that stands on a height against 
the sky-line, is well worth a visit, and the 
church, which seems a good many sizes too 



A WANDERING STAR. I J 

large for the village, is a fine specimen of 
Gothic architecture. 

But neither castle, nor church, nor the 
beauties of the forest close by, have brought 
Colonel Darner out here. 

He is listening to a man who has not 
spoken to an equal for twenty years, and 
whose feelings are not very well under his 
own control. The two are sitting in the low, 
dark-pannelled room of the " Chariot d'or " ; 
coffee and liqueurs are on the table between 
them, but they are untouched. 

" Know you ? ' Ralph Fitzpatrick is say- 
ing, — "why, you are hardly changed at all ! 
Between twenty and forty there must be 
always a gulf fixed, but you are practically 
the same. What do a few grey hairs matter ? 
Your eye, your look, your whole expression, 
are just what they were when I left the world. 
For I died twenty years ago, Darner ; there 
is no blinking that fact. It is strange to look 
back on it, is it not ? Think of the Ralph 
Fitzpatrick of those days ! without a care in 
the world, except that there wasn't enough 
money going, and one night — one night — put 
vol. i. c 



1 8 A WANDERING STAR. 

« 

an end to it all. I cut my own throat ; but 
how suddenly it all happened ! I can feel the 
temptation as if it was yesterday. I was 
playing for hundreds at the 'Arlington' ; I, 
who seldom had a spare ten-pound note — and 
losing — I wouldn't stop, and I couldn't pay. 
The devil himself reminded me of a trick that 
some kind friend had taught me, half in fun, 
once, in Paris — the Polish trick, they called 
it there — it was imagined to defy detection ; 
I tried it — my hand shook — I did it badly, 
and I was lost. I wonder what would have 
happened had they not found me out ? If I 
had been less clumsy, would I have held up 
my head among you all till now, or must I 
have fallen some other way ? I remember 
little of what immediately followed — a death- 
blow doesn't really hurt much, and the 
power of feeling didn't return for a long 
time. We came over here. Mary, poor 
Mary ! wouldn't leave me ; but I didn't care 
much at the time if she did or not. That 
first winter, without a soul to speak to, 
nothing to do but to eat, and sleep, and 
keep oneself alive, was indescribable. I am 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 9 

accustomed to it now, but it was different 
then. Mary bore that part of it bravely ; 
the thing that killed her was when summer 
came, and we now and then met people we 
had known before. How well I remember 
seeing her face change one afternoon as we 
were sitting listening to the band at the 
casino ! Some people passed us whom she 
had known pretty well at her old home-^ 
passed without a glance in our direction, 
though they knew we were there. I saw her 
face grow ghastly pale. Poor Mary ! she 
had never been cut before, and before she 
grew accustomed to it she was dead. For 
me, I can hardly now recall the time when 
people didn't look the other way. I must 
say I don't give them much chance. I 
spend the whole winter at Dieppe, and play 
picquet for centime points, with grocers and 
shopkeepers, at their little club. I play 
honestly there, I give you my word, Darner," 
he says, bitterly. "After all, some of my 
present associates are as good company as 
many an English duke or peer, and perhaps 
better bred and better mannered than one 

c 2 



20 A WANDERING STAR. 

or two Royal Highnesses who were rather 
partial to my society in old times. There is 
only a fictitious difference in people after 
all." 

" And your child," asks Colonel Darner, — 
"that lovely girl we saw with you ? — this life 
is hard, indeed, on her. Do none of Mary's 
relations take any notice of her ? ' 

" None of them," says Fitzpatrick, hope- 
lessly; "while Mary was alive we had plenty 
of money ; the Vivians wouldn't let one of 
their own want. But since she died her 
child is utterly ignored. A little money was 
bound to come to Vega through her mother 
— about as much as you pay your French 
cook, Darner ! — and on that pittance she and 
I just keep body and soul together. But it's 
all a matter of comparison, as I said before. 
I am happy now-a-days when I can pay for 
a gloria after my coffee, or win an unex- 
pected franc or two from my grocer friends 
at picquet. As for Vega, it is only now and 
then that I realize what a life hers is ; I 
recollect, sometimes, how the girls of her 
class were cared for, and guarded ; she has 



A WANDERING STAR. 21 

had to drag herself up anyhow — que votdez 
vous ? — no money, no friends, no position — ■ 
one of the enfants perdus of this world ; and 
yet, when I look at her, Damer, I believe 
she could hold her own anywhere." 

" Hold her own!" repeats Colonel Damer, 
" she has the most perfectly beautiful face I 
ever saw, and I am not apt to be carried 
away by enthusiasm. She has Mary's charm- 
ing expression, but she is far lovelier. 
Where is she, Fitzpatrick? I should like 
immensely to see her." 

"She is in~the garden, I dare say;" and 
her father rises listlessly and leads the way 
to the untidy, neglected garden, where vege- 
tables, flowers, and kitchen herbs grow in 
unpicturesque confusion, and where two or 
three dilapidated arbours, covered with 
straggling vines, have been built for those 
patrons of the " Chariot d'or," who like to 
drink their " bocks " and smoke their villan- 
ous tobacco in the open air. 

In one of these arbours they find Vega. 
The surroundings may be poor, but, after 
all, the vine-leaves make a perfect back- 



2 2 A WANDERING STAR. 

ground for the beautiful little head. Colonel 
Damer thinks her lovelier far than when she 
staked and lost her money at the casino. 
He sits down beside her. He is more than 
double her age, but even at forty, though 
the mind of twenty can hardly grasp the 
idea, a man can still have some feelings left ! 
He finds her not only lovely, but sweet and 
charming ; and he stays on and on, double 
the time he had at first intended. 

His first words to Brian, however, when 
he gets back to the yacht, and the two are 
once more smoking on deck, are by no 
means suggestive of a mind at ease. 

" I am in a terrible fix," says the Colonel, 
who, it must be acknowledged, is not only 
kind-hearted, but utterly weak whenever a 
pretty face is concerned. M I don't know 
what on earth to do, Brian ; you must see 
me through it, somehow. Any man would 
have done the same. I was so delighted 
with that lovely child to-day that before I 
knew where I was I had asked her to come 
on board to-morrow ! I told her father we 
would take her with us on our cruise, and 



A WANDERING STAR. 23 

we would bring her back to Dieppe in two 
or three weeks. He seemed indifferent, and 
agreed as if it was the most natural thing 
in the world ; but I wish you had seen her 
face ! she looked positively transfigured. 
After all she is my cousin ; why shouldn't I 
ask her on board if I choose ? But the 
question is, who is to break it to Lady Julia ? 
Couldn't you mention it in a casual sort of 
way at dinner, Brian, like a good fellow ?' 

Brian knows the high temper of his liege 
lady, and doesn't see it in that light at all. 

" My dear Darner," says he, " I cant 
interfere about your guests. Lady Julia 
would shut me up uncommonly quickly. 
No, no ! you have done a good action, and 
must take the consequences! — but here 
comes your wife on deck ; why not tell 
her now, and I will help you as much as I 
can: 

Lady Julia comes up the companion as he 
speaks ; she looks radiant. Brian has never 
left her side the whole day, and she has 
had the field entirely to herself, for Miss 
Grahame is a mere dummy. A crumpled 



24 A WANDERING STAR. 

roseleaf can upset her Ladyship's equanimity, 
but to-day there has not been a drawback. 

A charming costume — white serge ; but 
white serge glorified with bands of gold em- 
broidery, and a waistcoat one mass of gold, 
suits her fine figure to perfection ; she is 
looking her very best, and she knows it. 

" Now or never," whispers Brian to the 
Colonel, whom in his heart of hearts he 
infinitely prefers to the lady who considers 
him her especial property. 

Brian is crafty. A lovely spray of Mar- 
shal Niels have been arranged for him by 
the flower-girl at the casino gates. He has 
gone himself to fetch it ; he now begs Lady 
Julia to wear it. He puts a good deal of 
feeling into his voice, and he insists on 
arranging the roses himself on the beauti- 
ful shoulder. The attention pleases her, the 
contact of her lover's fingers soothe her, and 
she has even a smile for her husband ! 

" My dear Julia," begins the Colonel, " I 
have seen Fitzpatrick and his daughter to- 
day. Poor little girl, she must have an awful 
life of it ! As she is a cousin of my own, 



A WANDERING STAR. 25 

don't you think you could take a little notice 
of her ? " 

"In what way ? " says " my dear Julia," 
firmly ; she scents the battle from afar, and 
is ready for it. 

" Well," answers the Colonel nervously, 
<l we can't do anything for her here — besides, 
we sail to-morrow. She looks rather delicate 
(a pious fiction of the Colonel's), and would 
be much the better for a little change. 
What do you say to our asking her on board 
for a few days ? " 

"And be hampered with a bread-and- 
butter miss ! a girl who might have dropped 
from the clouds, for anything we know about 
her. Well, that is asking a little too much ! ' 
and her insulted Ladyship looks an inch or 
two taller, and her eye flashes at the unheard- 
of insult. 

"Why not, Lady Julia," says Brian in her 
ear, "if it would amuse the Colonel? It 
would be a capital plan, and I should have £ 
chance of having you to myself now and 
then, which I don't often succeed in doing, 
now-a-days." 



26 A WANDERING STAR. 

Her Ladyship looks at him keenly ; she 
has no great belief in man — not even in 
Brian — but surely he looks too innocent to 
be in collusion with her husband ! How- 
ever, she is mollified, in spite of herself. 

" I must say you never think of other 
people, Reginald," she says, severely. " A 
strange girl on board will be a frightful tax 
on me ; and if she is a cousin, they are not 
relations to be very proud of. Well, all I 
bargain for is, that the visit will not last 
more than a few days, at the outside. How 
Pinman will grumble at having another girl 
to wait on ! It was as much as I could do to 
get her to look after Cissy." 

" You may relieve Pinman's mind at once," 
says Colonel Darner, half sadly ; " she hasn't 
had much waiting on all her life so far, poor 
little thing, and she is so sweet and charming, 
I should think she would mollify even the 
ereat Pinman herself." 

"So like a man," returns his wife scorn- 
fully, " always caught by a pretty face ! Well, 
as you have settled that quite to your own 
satisfaction, and shown me your usual want 



A WANDERING STAR. 2J 

of consideration, I suppose we may as well 
go below to dinner. What is that you say, 
Brian ? " 

Whatever Brian whispers in her ear, it 
seems to please her, for her Ladyship is 
radiant all dinner, does not refer to their new 
guest at all, and the Colonel thinks himself 
uncommonly lucky to have got off so 
cheaply. 



28 A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER II. 

" A fair wind to your ship, and the storms aye ten miles 

to leeward o' her ! " 

Brilliant sunshine — a flat calm — the 
pleasant land of France lying like a blue 
cloud along the horizon, and the Gitana, 
with idly flapping sails, drifting with the tide, 
and rolling just enough to give Lady Julia, 
who is an indifferent sailor, some real cause 
for complaint. 

The good yacht left Dieppe the night 
before, but the light breeze that they hoped 
might strengthen by the morning, has died 
away, and they can neither get backwards nor 
forwards. 

The air is warm, balmy, almost perfumed, 
and for those who wish to rest, or love to do 
nothing, what can be pleasanter than to lie 
at ease on a white deck, more asleep than 
awake ? Colonel Darner is one of these 



A WANDERING STAR. 2 9 

contented souls ; surely nature has intended 
him for a yachtsman ! 

The easy-going, restful, unexciting life 
suits him to a turn. Lady Julia, sulky and 
blooming, and never satisfied anywhere, is, 
on the contrary, in what our neighbours 
would call une humeur massacrante. 

She lies on deck on a pile of cushions ; a 
book is in her hand, but she seldom looks at 
it ; the steward brings her grapes and green 
figs, but they lie untouched on the deck ; the 
great Pinman is up and down the companion 
a dozen times, now with a gauze veil, now 
with some lace for my Lady's fair throat, now 
to re-arrange pillows, that it seems impossible 
to place rightly. 

Her husband bears the brunt of her 
reproaches, and is held personally account- 
able for the want of wind ; but her real 
grievance is that Brian has dared to leave 
her side, or her feet, or wherever he is wont 
to be found, and devotes himself to this new 
girl — this "mere waif and stray," as Lady 
Julia calls her. " Under my very eyes too ! " 
muses her Ladyship, as she watches Vega 



30 A WANDERING STAR. 

Fitzpatrick flitting about the deck, followed 
either by Brians admiring eyes, or by Brian's 
delighted person. 

The girl is in the seventh heaven of 
happiness, and she half fears she must wake 
and find it a dream. By what merit of her 
own has she been promoted from the dusty 
roads round Arques — the dilapidated arbours 
of the " Chariot d'or " garden — the company 
of a broken-down man, who hardly cares if 
she is alive or dead ? 

Her feet seem hardly to tread the white 
decks. The cabins below look like fairy 
land. If the strongest breezes that ever sent 
the Gitana eight knots an hour through the 
green waters blow their hardest, or if they 
are becalmed for a week, it is all one to her. 

Is she really Vega Fitzpatrick, who wan- 
dered alone in the Arques fields three days 
ago ? Is it in heaven, or on earth, that the 
" Garden of Sleep' is being strummed on 
an indifferently-tuned banjo ? And have 
Brian's blue eyes and his merry face their 
match on earth ? 

11 I never saw anything so disgraceful as 



A WANDERING STAR. 3 1 

the way that girl runs after Brian," says 
Lady Julia to her ante damne'e, as she and 
Miss Grahame watch Vega, with Brian in 
close attendance. 

Lady Julia has flirted steadily, and with 
malice prepense, for the last dozen years ; 
indeed, from her very cradle the admiration 
of man has been to her as the breath of her 
nostrils. 

" She talks, and laughs, and is as much at 
home with him as if he were her grand- 
father. He positively can't get away from 
her. But what can one expect from a girl 
brought up anyhow abroad ? And look at 
Reginald, showing her the sky, or the sea, 
or I don't know what ! He is quite infat- 
uated too. Reginald, of all people ! " and 
Lady Julia laughs scornfully. 

Cissy Grahame does not say much — she 
knows better. Half her success in life is 
due to her letting other people talk, and the 
other half to never repeating what they say. 
She is bavarde, mats cachottiere, with a 
vengeance ! 

" How differently a well-bred English girl 



32 A WANDERING STAR. 

would behave ! " continues Lady Julia. " I 
like a girl with some repose — some natural 
dignity. Time enough for her to put herself 
forward once she is married. Fancy what 
my sister Hermione would say if she saw 
her ! Not that Hermione doesn't, perhaps, 
err the other way with her two poor little 
mice of girls ; ' and here Lady Julia laughs, 
and Miss Cissy discreetly joins in the mirth, 
for Lady Hermione's system of education is 
a bye- word. 

She, too, like Lady Julia, had been a 
dark-eyed beauty — a fact she could not 
forget — and she seemed to bear a personal 
grudge to her poor snubbed little girls. 
At seventeen and eighteen they were still 
" the children," and treated much like state 
prisoners. She hoped the world would 
ignore them as much as she did herself. 
She dressed them in impossible clothes, and 
then complained of their clumsy figures and 
heavy faces ; she forbade them to join in the 
conversation, and found fault with their 
gauche7'ie and bad manners ! 

" Well," adds Lady Julia, still laughing, 



A WANDERING STAR. 33 

and mollified, as she thinks of the ridicule 
attached to her sister, " extremes meet ; and 
between Pussy and Dottie on one hand, 
and this Miss Vega on the other, there 
is a certain amount of margin. I don't 
believe Brian can like being so much run 
after." 

Miss Grahame is silent, being wise in her 
generation, and lets Lady Julia have her 
own way. 

A lovely evening follows the cloudless 
afternoon. The Gztana, if anything, loses 
ground in drifting, and those on board are 
either ill-tempered, or bored, or indolent, or 
happy, as is their nature. It is warm — 
softly, deliciously warm — the warmth of 
sunnier regions than these — and the sky is a 
blaze of red. 

" The dew is very heavy again to-night," 
says Colonel Darner. " You must put on a 
cloak, Vega " — he calls her Vega by right of 
relationship, and Lady Julia is annoyed 
every time he does so. " You are all right, 
Julia, in your big coat ; but what can Miss 
Fitzpatrick put on ? n 

vol. 1. D 



34 A WANDERING STAR. 

" Miss Fitzpatrick will put on nothing 
more, for the excellent reason that she has 
nothing more to put on," says Vega, gaily 
and undauntedly ; " but don't mind me, 
Colonel Darner ; I am not at all cold." 

" But the dews are dangerous, and you 
will get your death. My dear Julia, haven't 
you a cloak to lend her ? " 

" I have a fancy for keeping my own 
things," says his wife, unpleasantly ; "and I 
am so much taller than Miss Fitzpatrick : 
my cloaks would drag about the deck. I 
hate draggled clothes ; but there is a boat- 
cloak hanging up below — she can have that 
if she likes." 

The boat-cloak, an ancient Connemara, 
makes its appearance, and the girl rolls 
herself in it with that quick, intuitive skill in 
draping possessed by nine Frenchwomen 
out of ten — a trick she has acquired in the 
land of her adoption. 

It does not hang round her in shapeless 
folds, as it might on some English shoulders 
— it drapes but does not conceal the lovely- 
bust and slender waist. 



A WANDERING STAR. 35 

" So theatrical, almost indecent," whispers 
Lady Julia to Miss Grahame ; " and, do you 
see, she is not satisfied with one of them 
now. She must have Brian on one side, 
and Reginald — that ridiculous Reginald — on 
the other." 

" Yours is the prettiest name I know," 
that " ridiculous Reginald ' is now saying to 
her. u I never heard of a Vega before. 
What does it mean ? How do you come by 
it?" 

11 My mother had a great fancy for it," 
answers Vega. " She died when I was quite 
a little thing, and father never mentions her 
name, so I can't tell you much about it ; but 
I have her Prayer Book, in which she wrote 
my name before she died — ' Vega,' and 
under it, ' He telleth the number of the 
stars, and calleth them all by their names.' 
I suppose she was sorry to leave me all 
alone, or, at least, only with father, and it 
pleased her to think of that text. But I 
know nothing for certain, Colonel Darner ; 
it is all guesswork. " 

" Tell us what you have done with your- 

D 2 



36 A WANDERING STAR. 

self, Vega?" he asks again; "have you 
always lived at Dieppe ? " 

" I was born there," she answers ; "but I 
think there was a time when we went 
from place to place. I am not sure, for 
I can't clearly remember any place but 
Dieppe." 

He makes her talk on ; her talk, half 
French, or rather French idioms freely 
translated, is very quaint and very original. 

The two men are delighted with every 
word she says, and indeed any one would 
have found her charming even if her face 
had not been so very fair. 

Hours and days succeed each other. To 
some on board time flies with lightning 
speed, and it seems as if it could not make 
enough haste to join the unreturning past. 
To Lady Julia, on the contrary, the hours 
are leaden. The calm has long ago 
been succeeded by a fair breeze — the very 
wind they have been praying for to take 
them down to the West — but the Gitana 
never hurries herself, and Vega's pretty eyes 
have plenty of time to gaze their fill on the 



A WANDERING STAR. T>7 

chalky cliffs of Old England as they run down 
the Channel. 

They pass the woods of the Isle of Wight 
■ — a broad belt of green between the under- 
cliff and the sea, and they sight St. 
Catherines light and the Needles — those 
great, grey rocks hollowed by the tides into 
endless caves and arches, and worm-eaten, 
as it were, by the force of the waves, which 
guard the entrance to the Solent. They see 
at a distance the white villas of Bourne- 
mouth, and Christ Church standing like a 
great cathedral against the skyline — then, 
along the shores of Dorset, the bold outline 
of St. Alban's Head breaking the low range 
of downs, till they reach the lovelier coasts 
of Devon. Dawlish and Teignmouth gleam 
white and shining among wooded glades ; 
Torquay, on its terraced hills, looks like ar. 
Italian town, and the trees and woods in full 
foliage make a rare contrast to the pinky- 
red Devonian soil. 

They leave Torbay to the right, and sail 
along the cliffs and among the rocky islets 
between Torquay and Dartmouth. The 



38 A WANDERING STAR. 

breeze is, if anything, too fresh, and to 
Lady }ulia, who hates the motion and keeps 
to her cabin, it is gall and wormwood to 
hear Vega's light steps above her head, her 
merry voice in her ear. 

" Now, Miss Vega, look out!" says Brian, 
and how bright and happy his voice sounds 
too ; "we are coming to the loveliest entrance 
to the loveliest harbour in England." 

They are sailing up the narrow passage 
that leads to Dartmouth. Even Lady Julia 
cannot now complain of the motion, for the 
high land on both sides protects them from 
every blast. They pass the Castle, enter 
the harbour, take up their moorings close 
to Kings wear, and Vega sees spread 
before her eyes the prettiest sight they have 
ever rested on. More than one hundred 
yachts are anchored in that land-locked bay 
— crowded together, stem and stern ; every 
size and rig are to be seen, from the stately 
600-ton steamer down to the smallest cockle- 
shell that can be called a yacht. All are 
dressed with flags — the display of bunting 
on some of the larger yachts is wonderful — 



A WANDERING STAR. 39 

they have awnings on their decks — boats 
and steam launches are flying about the 
harbour, and some boat-races are going on. 

On the shore flags are also flying — the 
Dartmouth quay is crowded with figures in 
holiday attire — the green seems a mass of 
white tents — a sound of fiddling and drum- 
ming comes from the land. What more 
need be said ? Dartmouth is in the height 
of its three days' season — in the eyes of its 
inhabitants the best three days in the whole 
year. 

" Now, Vega," says Colonel Darner, " what 
do you think of all this ? I hope you will 
have some amusement at last." 

" I couldn't be happier than I have been 
this last week," says she, looking up in his 
face with lovely eyes full of gratitude. " I 
never knew what happiness meant before ! ' 

" Oh ! we'll do better for you still," says 
he ; " you deserve anything for the way you 
stood last night. The old Gitana tumbled 
about a good bit, but you are a born sailor, a 
girl after my own heart ! I say, my Lady," 
he calls out to his wife, who makes her 



40 A WANDERING STAR. 

appearance on deck at last, " let's settle to 
go ashore after dinner, and show Vega the 
dancing on the green, and all the sights of 
the fair ! " 

" I don't at all see why I should be dragged 
ashore," returns Lady Julia, her head in the 
air ; " it wouldn't amuse me in the least. 
But pray don't let me keep you from going. 
Cissy and I can make ourselves quite happy 
on board, and I should think it would be 
just the sort of amusement that would suit 
Miss Fitzpatrick." 

Vega was not very experienced in the 
ways of the world, but she could read be- 
tween the lines as well as most people. Her 
pretty face turns rosy-red, and she makes a 
sad mistake by turning to Brian, as if for 
protection. 

He throws off all allegiance to Lady Julia 
on the spot. 

" Well ! Miss Vega, Colonel Darner and 
I are the best of chaperons. Trust yourself 
to us, and we will promise to show you 
round, and you shall have a dance on the 
green too ! One must be very young to 



A WANDERING STAR. 4 1 

enjoy dancing on the green, but I think 

you are about the right age ! " 

" I am glad you think so," she laughs 

merrily ; "for I mean to do it whether you 

approve or not. It's the only kind of 

dancing I have ever had. I used to go to all 

the village fairs and fetes when I was a child 

in the villages round Dieppe — so I shall be 

more at home than you are." 

***** 

" Here we are at last ! ' says Brian, three 
hours later, as they land on the steps that 
lead to the green. 

The harbour looks as pretty by night as 
by day. Some of the yachts are dressed 
with Chinese lanterns, and some are sending 
up fireworks ; fireworks are going up from 
the shore, and the lights of the fair, and the 
coloured lamps that hang from the trees add 
to the general effect. 

They make their way to the dancing 
ground — the green is crowded — the band 
plays loudly — spectators stand in a circle 
three or four deep ; groups climb on the 
raised mounds that surround the trees ; the 



42 A WANDERING STAR. 

dancers are very mixed, but the tout ensemble 
is charming. Now a tall man in yachting 
clothes and a yachting cap waltzes smoothly 
round with the reigning beauty of the last 
London season, the uneven ground not seem- 
ing to put them out in the least. Now a yacht's 
sailor jogs past, with a "girl of the people' 
in a bright hat and feather — now high, now 
low, but all bent on amusing themselves. 

" Let us dance too," says Brian, and in a 
moment he has Vega in his arms. " You 
are a born dancer," he adds, as the two rest 
their backs against a tree after a long — a 
very long — turn. " Some people plough 
through the gravel, but you skim. I have 
had a hundred dances on ball-room floors 
that were as smooth as ice, which weren't 
half as good as this ; let us go on, Vega — on, 
till the very last bar of the music, and then 
you must come with me, and I will show 
you all the sights. We won't wait for the 
Colonel ; he knows plenty of people — he's 
all right ; besides, I want to have you to 
myself this evening— one may never have 
such a chance again. Are you agreeable ?". 



A WANDERING STAR. 43. 

His eyes look into hers, and he would be 
blind indeed did he not read his answer in 
them. 

The music ends with a flourish — the 
dancers scatter. Brian and Vega, arm-in- 
arm, like real lovers, wander through the 
fair. They are more like children though ! 
Side by side they sit in a booth, and see a 
panorama of the Siege of Sebastopol ; then 
the waxworks are visited, and the shoot- 
ing galleries, but the fat lady is avoided, 
and to the Siamese twins is given a very 
wide berth ! They ride on horseback on 
the merry-go-round, while the loud, harsh 
organ (round which they pivot) grinds 
out "White Wings." Some of the riders 
are solemn, as if they were the cynosures 
of all eyes in the park. Others have 
more abandon, and a yacht sailor sits 
with his face to his horse's tail ! Pinman 
goes round grimly in the company of the 
steward of the Gitana ; she would not smile 
for the world, but others smile and laugh 
too, and here and there a brown hand and 
strong arm is wound round a slender waist. 



44 A WANDERING STAR. 

The bystanders around laugh, the music 
is deafening, and after two or three rounds, 
Brian and Vega jump down and wander on. 

" Let's get out of this crowd," says he, 
suddenly. " Anything to be out of reach 
of ' White Wings.' They find a corner, 
not far off indeed, but deserted and quiet ; 
they sit down on the wooden bench and rest. 

He does not talk or even try to make 
conversation ; instead of that he takes her 
hand, and she does not draw it from his 
strong, eager clasp. 

Lady Julia seems a hundred miles away — 
so does the fiddling and dancing at the fair. 
His blood runs hotly in his veins, and Vega, 
for the first time, knows what it is to love. 
The two blond heads are dangerously near 
each other ; her lips, sweet as the petals of 
a wild rose, are close to his. But whose voice, 
full of suppressed anger and emotion, falls 
on their ears ? and whose erect and stately 
figure stands black and forbidding against 
the background of light ? 

" Lady Julia ! — you here ? You have 
come ashore after all ! " exclaims Brian, in 



A WANDERING STAR. 45 

a voice which cannot hide his great, his 
horrible annoyance. " And Miss Grahame 
too ! fancy you wandering about here alone. 
Have you not met the Colonel ? " 

" We were tired of each other's company 
— bored to death on board," answers Lady 
Julia, " and we came to see how you were 
all getting on. You seem to be getting on 
capitally. Pray what have you done with 
Reginald, Brian ? and in what part of the 
world is it the fashion, Miss Fitzpatrick, to 
leave your chaperon entirely in the lurch ? ' 

"We only danced a little," stammered out 
Vega, "and when the dance was over we 
didn't see him." 

" So I can well believe," says her Lady- 
ship, in her most unpleasant voice. " If these 
are your Dieppe manners I can't say I 
admire them ! " 

She sweeps on. Brian knows better than 
to let her go alone, and the two girls follow. 
Lady Julia goes straight to the point, and 
her eyes flash as she turns them to her com- 
panion, speaking at the same time with much 
heat and violence. 



46 A WANDERING STAR. 

" You are making a perfect fool of yourself, 
Brian ! Remember that that girl and her 
father are — outcasts — outlawed, for all I 
know. I don't care whether you turn her 
silly head or not. I dare say she has had 
plenty of affairs with Dieppe young men 
already ; but I won't have any folly on your 
side going on while you are with us. No 
man in his senses could marry a daughter 
of Ralph Fitzpatrick. Why his very name 
is a byword ! " 

Her Ladyship says no more, nor does he 

answer. One thing is certain: her words, in 

spite of himself, make an impression on him. 
# * * # * 

Fifteen days have passed since Vega 
sailed in the Gitana. For fifteen long sum- 
mer days has this forlorn, neglected girl 
tasted perfect happiness, and of how many 
ordinary, humdrum, long-lived people could 
as much be said ? 

Lady Julia's sneers scarcely affect her — 
Lady Julia's undisguised animosity does not 
trouble her. 

They sail in halcyon seas ; they wander 



A WANDERING STAR. 47 

from place to place — the days are too short 
for her happiness, and she grudges the hours 
that must be spent in sleep. 

And now they are in the Solent, and the 
Gitana lies at anchor in Cowes Harbour. 
Vega must perforce content herself with the 
pleasures of hope, for Brian has had to leave 
them for a week. He has long since 
pledged himself to a voyage half round 
the world with a friend the ensuing winter, 
and many preparations must be made, 
though at the end of that week he is to 
return on board without fail. Then, as 
Colonel Darner says, "We will run over to 
Antwerp, or Ostend, and won't take Vega 
back to Dieppe till the very end of our 
cruise. In the meantime," he adds, " I 
shall take the opportunity of going up to 
London for a night to look after some 
business in the City, but I shall be down 
again without fail to-morrow evening. You 
three ladies must take care of yourselves 
and the yacht while I am away." 

Vega does not like it at all. It is quite a 
case of two to one, for Lady Julia and Miss 



48 A WANDERING STAR. 

Grahame make it very clear that they have 
nothing in common with her in any way. 

Colonel Darner leaves them, and things go 
on as might have been expected — Lady Julia 
and Cissy are inseparable, Vega is alone. 
The two friends sit on deck all the morning, 
and as it is bright and sunshiny, and as 
Vega does not wish to make an unwelcome 
third, but finds the cabins hot and close, she 
takes a book and sits half way up the com- 
panion. 

The sound of talking reaches her, but not 
the words, till Lady Julia's voice, in louder 
tones than usual, falls on her ear : — " His 
mother is evidently desperately alarmed. I 
know what her letter this morning meant 
very well. Some kind friend has told her 
about her precious Brian's flirtation with this 
girl, and now she as good as taxes me with 
having shady people on board. I believe 
she thinks he will marry her." 

" Are you quite sure he means nothing 
serious ? " asks Cissy, in her smooth, unin- 
terested tones. 

" Serious ! Why ? The man's not an 



A WANDERING STAR. 49 

absolute fool!' says Lady Julia, in a 
voice of actual pain. " Fancy a Beres- 
ford marrying a daughter of that black 
sheep Ralph Fitzpatrick! No, no! he won't 
go so far as that ; but in the meantime / 
am to be called over the coals, as if it 
were my fault — as if I could have pre- 
vented Reginald picking up a stray, un- 
known girl at Dieppe ! — the daughter of a 
man whose reputation is European— people 
without a penny, and with as good as no 
relations in the world, for not one of the 
Vivians will look at them." 

Can it indeed be about her and her father 
that Lady Julia is speaking ? Is this the 
key to the riddle that has so long perplexed 
her — the real meaning of the life they have 
led? 

Vega has no strength, no power to move, 
and Lady Julia goes on, — 

" I would give anything in the world to 
get her out of the yacht. You know I always 
hate and detest girls, and have set my face 
against any of them coming on board. Her- 
mione sometimes wants to put Dottie and 

vol. 1. e 



5<D A WANDERING STAR. 

Pussy on my shoulders, but I always get out 
of it. If I refuse to oblige my own sister, 
it is hard indeed that I should be held re- 
sponsible for a girl of this sort. If Brian 
was fool enough to marry her, not one of the 
Beresfords would ever speak to me again." 

Half an hour later Lady Julia goes below 
to write letters ; Vega is in the saloon, and 
as her Ladyship sits down at the writing- 
table the girl comes and stands beside her. 

"Is it true, Lady Julia, that you are 
ashamed to have me with you ? Do you 
want me to go away ? " 

The words sound determined ; but oh ! 
how beseeching and pitiful is the tone in 
which they are spoken. If she was begging 
for her life she could not beg harder for 
mercy. 

Lady Julia is taken aback, and for a 
minute she all but leans to mercy's side. 
Had the girl looked less beautiful, who 
knows but her better feelings would have 
won the day ? 

" I do not understand you ! ' at last she 
says, coldly. " If you have overheard any- 



A WANDERING STAR. 51 

thing not intended for your ears it was your 
own fault, Miss Fitzpatrick." 

" I didn't understand it before," goes on 
Vega, in an uncertain broken kind of voice. 
" At Dieppe it must have been always kept 
from me, but I suppose it is all true, and that 
we are outcasts, as you say. That is the reason 
we have lived away from every one. Shall 
I go back there now, Lady Julia ? I sup- 
pose it would be better ? " 

Lady Julia has a merciful impulse once 
more. 

" I am very sorry indeed," — and she stops 
— her better feelings are quenched, and this 
time for good. "Well, if you think it would 
be better to go back, and look after your 
father — you told me yesterday he wasn't well 
— you no doubt feel you have been long 
enough away, and could be of use to him, so 
perhaps it would be as well. It is quite easy 
for you to get away either to-day or to- 
morrow. Pinman shall take you as far as 
Newhaven. How would that do ? " 

Twice over Vega tries to answer, and 
twice over the words are choked in her 

E 2 






*:-.,'V/;fv 



52 A WANDERING STAR. 

throat. When she at last gets out " to-day,' 

she falls to stupidly wondering if it is her 

own voice, for it sounds so loud and strange. 
***** 

" So poor little Vega has been obliged to 
leave us, and to go and look after her sick 
father," says Colonel Darner the next night 
at dinner. 

Lady Julia has condescended so far as to 
meet him herself in the gig at the Cowes 
pier — an act of friendliness which has both 
surprised and pleased him. " Poor little 
girl ! I suppose she was obliged to do it, 
but I know it must have been a terrible dis- 
appointment to her. She was so looking for- 
ward to our next cruise. Well, we must 
have her over to stay with us when the 
yachting is over. By the way, my Lady, it 
was very kind indeed of you to spare Pin- 
man. I am glad you didn't send Vega with 
any one else. Of course, if I had been here 
I should have taken her myself, but I suppose 
as her father was so ill there was no time to 
be lost. All the same, I think it was really 
good of you to put yourself out, for I know 



.A WANDERING STAR. 53 

how dependent you are on the great Pin- 



man." 



Why does the approbation of her husband 
annoy Lady Julia so much ? and why, with 
so much on her conscience, should she wince 
at this unmerited praise ? He will never 
know the truth. Cissy Grahame is silent as 
the grave. All the same, she answers angrily, 
" To hear you talk, Reginald, one would 
imagine that I was utterly selfish ! " 

" Not at all, Julia," says Colonel Darner, 
kindly ; " it was only my stupid way of put- 
ting it. All I meant was to thank you for 
looking after poor little Vega when she was 
in trouble." 



54 A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER III. 

" Not for mortal toiling nor spinning 
Will the matters of mortals mend. 
As it was so in the beginning 
It shall be so in the end. 
The web that the weavers weave ill 
Shall not be woven aright 
Till the good is brought forth from evil 
As day is brought forth from night." 

* - 

The fruit from the Tree of Knowledge 
has been plucked with a vengeance, and the 
Vega who now wanders about the deserted 
streets of Dieppe and faces the northerly 
gale on the edge of its chalky cliffs is a very 
different Vega from the child who, in spite 
of having little to make her happy, was 
joyous as if fortune had smiled on her birth 
only a few weeks ago. 

But she now knows — she knows — and the 
knowledge half kills her. 



A WANDERING STAR. 55 

Lady Julia, to do her justice, told her but 
little, but her quick intelligence can piece 
together much that had baffled her before. 

To be sure, she had taken little heed at 
the time, but seeds had sown themselves 
unconsciously in her mind, that now spring 
to life all of a sudden. 

Does she not remember dimly a pale 
mother who seemed to be always weeping ? 
Does she not realize all at once that every 
other girl in the world has some relations 
and friends, and that no friendly face or 
kinsman's greeting has ever come her way ? 
Can she not recall, comparatively lately, a 
party of English, who sweep past her father 
and herself on the Casino Terrace with 
curious, half averted looks, and did she not 
wonder at the time at the strange pallor of 
her father's face after they had gone past ? 

It is easy enough to see when a hand holds 
high the light, and it is a very fierce light in- 
deed that has been thrown on her father's 
past and her own. 

In the greater sorrow all lesser ones are 
swallowed up, and Vega hardly frets at all, 



56 A WANDERING STAR. 

or longs for the happy days on board the 
Gitana to return. Brian Beresford seems 
nothing to her now. She realizes clearly 
that she is not meant for happiness : it was 
more a dream than anything else, and like a 
dream it has faded. 

The days seem suddenly to have grown a 
most interminable length, and all her simple 
pleasures have lost their zest ; she feels 
utterly depressed in her father's society, and 
still more melancholy in her own. 

They have made no friends in all the years 
they have lived in that dull Norman town. 
The natives of such places never make 
the slightest effort to know any stranger, 
even though those strangers are all but 
naturalized by right of long residence ; and 
as for the " poor English " whom the fortune 
of war has cast on those shores to make the 
best fight they can for bare life, their man- 
ners, and habits, and ways, have always 
grated on Mr. Fitzpatrick. Whatever his 
past may have been, he will remain grand 
seigneur to the end of his days. 

Lady Julia's words seem to have been 



A WANDERING STAR. 57 

almost prophetic, for he has become very- 
delicate and ailing this winter. His tall, 
slim figure is now thin to the verge of 
emaciation ; he stoops as he walks, and his 
face seems to have taken another expres- 
sion by reason of the hollow cheeks and the 
features that seem all at once to have grown 
larger. 

If Ralph Fitzpatrick has many faults, he 
at least can boast one negative virtue : he 
never complained of anything in his life, and 
he does not complain now. 

Bon sang comes out in this characteristic, 
at any rate ; but he hardly eats at all, hardly 
speaks, and even his one amusement at the 
little club seems to pall on him. Vega 
would like to tell him her sorrow at his 
changed condition, but he will have none of 
her sympathy, and the gloomy figure cower- 
ing over the fire, or buried in a large arm- 
chair in front of the smouldering logs, tells 
on her nerves in the end, and drives her out 
of doors for more lonely hours and more 
lonely walks than ever. 

A few of the shopkeepers look kindly on 



58 A WANDERING STAR. 



la petite Anglaise, and chat with her when 
she comes to them to make her rare pur- 
chases, but her only real friend among them 
all is la Mere Thibaud, an old woman who 
sells chestnuts, and who sits at her stall 
under the arches that face the harbour. 

Her friendship with Vega had begun 
when the latter was a mere child. The old 
woman, whose face was as rosy and as 
wrinkled as one of her own Normandy 
apples, had smiled from under the shadow 
of her great bonnet blanc on the pretty little 
girl from the first time she ever saw her, and 
fruit in summer and roast chestnuts in winter 
had cemented the friendship. Most of the 
petit sous that came into Vega's childish hands 
had been placed on Mere Thibaud's ample lap, 
and good measure, full and overflowing, was 
always meted out by those brown, wrinkled 
fingers to her little customer. She still buys 
chestnuts from her friend, but more for the 
pleasure of talking to the old woman than for 
anything else. Mere Thibaud, however, likes 
her chestnuts to be appreciated, and she be- 
lieves that hers are larger, more mealy, and 



A WANDERING STAR. 59 

hotter under their drugget covering than any 
chestnuts in the town. 

We all like to shine somehow, and Mere 
Thibaud has no ambition, and few thoughts, 
beyond her chestnuts. 

" You have forsaken me lately, ma petite 
mademoiselle/' says the old woman to Vega, 
one afternoon, as the girl, after a long walk 
on the bleak sea-shore, stops at her stall, " and 
such a fine lot of chestnuts as I have had in 
lately. No, no, mademoiselle ! no petit sous 
this time ! Here are five of them all hot — 
all hot ! A present from la pauvre Mere 
Thibaud. Eat them quick— 9a fait du bien — 
9a chauffe l'estomac ? And if their heat puts 
a little colour into your pretty cheeks, ah ! 
tant mieux ! What has come to you lately, 
mignonne ? You are no longer gay or 
happy." 

"And you look always happy, Mere 
Thibaud," says the girl, enviously. " Do 
you always feel it ? Do you never want 
anything more than to sit here and roast 
chestnuts ? " 

11 Not now," answers the old woman, 



6o .A WANDERING STAR. 

cheerily, and she certainly looks the picture 
of content. " Once upon a time, yes ! when 
my son went away to fight the cursed Prus- 
sians, and never came back to his old mother. 
I was unhappy then — va ! But one forgets, 
mademoiselle — at my age one forgets readily, 
and I don't often think of my poor Pierre 
now-a-days. It is past, and, as you say, 
I am quite happy roasting my chestnuts ; " 
and Mere Thibaud bursts into song, if her 
thin little ghost of a pipe can be called 
singing : — 

"A quoi pourrais-je pretendre ? 
Les petits vivent de peu, 
J'ai du vin, et du pain tendre, 
Et le soleil du bon Dieu ! " 

" I wish I was like you, Mere Thibaud," 
sighs the girl; "but I cannot keep from 
thinking." 

" Naturally, mademoiselle, when one has 
no work to do, like the rich, one has time 
for that stupidity. If I was like one of you 
others, and had nothing to do but to wander 
on the pebbles of the beach, or lose my way 
in the forest of Tibermont, I, too, would 



A WANDERING STAR. 6 1 

fret and be sad. I would think of my man 
who died forty years ago, and I would shed 
bitter tears for my Pierre, who was shot 
through the heart by a German bullet. But 
what will you ? When I sit here I have my 
hands full looking after my chestnuts, and I 
must keep a sharp look-out on the boys too, 
the young thieves ! Then I generally am 
too cold to think, and when I go home at 
night I am too sleepy, and in the morning 
I am too busy, for I have all my chestnuts 
to notch. It takes one all one's time to cut 
them properly — this way, and then that 
way, so, ma petite dame. So when have I 
time to sit with my hands before me and 
sigh? It's as much as I can do to say a 
prayer every day for my poor boy's soul ; 
but that does some good ; one must find time 
for that." 

" How tired you must sometimes be, Mere 
Thibaud, working so hard, and doing the 
same things over and over again." 

" I demand nothing better, mademoiselle. 
I shall go on till I am too ill, or too old, and 
then — why, then I must trust to my neigh- 



62 A WANDERING STAR. 

bours and le bon Dieu. I have had no time 
to make my soul mais le bon Dieu n'est pas 
trop dur pour les pauvres. II saura que 
j'ai fait mon possible." 

Ten days pass before Vega's light figure 
is once more seen coming along the Arcade 
that leads her past Mere Thibaud's stall. 
The stall is there, and so are the withered 
apples, the wooden-looking pears, and the 
great pot full of syrup, and a variety of 
abominations which goes by the name of 
H Confiture de menage." 

The tripod stands in its usual corner, 
sheltered from the wind, and no doubt the 
smouldering charcoal is as red hot, and the 
chestnuts as well [roasted, as if Mere Thi- 
baud kept watch and ward over them. But 
"a girl of the people," with a brazen counte- 
nance, a bonnet blanc stuck rakishly on the 
back of her head, and a figure that boasts 
many generous curves, sits on the low chair 
formerly so well filled by Mere Thibaud's 
ample, if somewhat shapeless, form. She is 
surrounded by customers, who are all sailors. 
Their long fishing-boots come half-way up 



A WANDERING STAR. 63 

their legs ; their broad shoulders are clothed 
in the thickest of jerseys, and their bold, 
blue-eyed Norman faces look out from the 
shadow of huge sou'-westers. They are 
apparently bound for the fishing, and before 
starting are bandying words and cracking 
jokes with the girl, who is evidently giving 
them as good as she takes ! 

" Tenez ! voila la petite Anglaise," she 
screams, as Vega stops opposite the stall 
and looks about her in an uncertain way, as 
if she did not know who to ask for news of 
Mere Thibaud. 

An old woman, with a face brown and 
wrinkled as a piece of discoloured parch- 
ment, and bent double with rheumatism, 
opens the door of the shop opposite, and 
proceeds to tell a long story in the vilest 
Norman-French. Vega, fortunately, is able 
to understand her, and to make out that 
poor Mere Thibaud has been very ill for the 
last few days, and has sent a message to her 
old crony that if la petite Anglaise passed 
that way she would tell her, and ask Vega 
to go and see her. 



64 A WANDERING STAR. 

"And if mademoiselle will be so gen- 
tille," continues the old woman, " Nanette 
shall show her the way to the house of Mere 
Thibaud. Nanette, Nannette ! " shouts she, 
till at last a little girl in a dirty black stuff 
frock down to her heels, and an equally dirty 
linen skull-cap tied tightly under her chin, 
leaves a distant gutter in which she has been 
playing, and at her grandmother's bidding 
consents to guide Vega to her old friend's 
house. 

It is not far off, but a labyrinth of dark, 
narrow streets has to be threaded before 
they reach the door of a tall, dilapidated 
stone house, whose somewhat important en- 
trance and the cut stone ornaments above 
the windows show that it must once upon a 
time have been a better-class home, though 
its present inhabitants are now the poorest 
of the poor. 

" Montez, mademoiselle ! You will find 
Mere Thibaud at the top of the house," says 
the dirty little girl, taking leave of Vega on 
the threshold, and disappearing as quickly as 
if the earth had swallowed her up. Vega, 



A WANDERING STAR. 65 

feeling just a little frightened, climbs the 
narrow corkscrew stairs, black with age and 
dirt, and so steep that as she mounts higher 
she is glad to lay hold of the rope that runs 
along the wall as a balustrade. 

A knock at the door on the topmost floor 
and a feeble voice bids her come in. 

The girl enters, but finds a certain amount 
of difficulty in reaching the bed where the 
poor old chestnut-seller is lying, for the whole 
floor is covered with chestnuts. There is a 
small fire on the hearth, and they are spread 
round it as thickly as they can be made 
to go. 

They form a golden-brown carpet every- 
where. 

The table pulled near the fireplace is also 
covered with them, and on the bed lie a pile 
of the shiny nuts, on which, with a feeble 
hand, Mere Thibaud is trying to make those 
scores that she believes can only be success- 
fully performed by a master in the art. 

The knife drops from her hold as she 
catches sight of Vega, and with a joyous, 
almost triumphant, smile she welcomes her. 

vol 1. F 



66 A WANDERING STAR. 

" I knew you would come, mignonne, though 
Marie Amont told me I oughtn't to worry 
you, and that you wouldn't care if an old 
woman like me was alive or dead. But I 
said to her, only tell la petite mademoiselle, 
and she will be sure not to fail me. I wanted 
to see your pretty face once more, and I 
wanted to give you some of my chestnuts. 
Look at them there ! All my stock for the 
winter came in yesterday, and I can't even 
get up to see what they are like. Old Marie 
spread them out for me ; they're never dry 
enough after a long journey, and it takes a 
day or two before the poor things come right. 
But I will never watch them over the char- 
coal in the tripod again, or give five of them 
to la petite mademoiselle as she passes along 
under the arches. I am done for now, my 
dear. There isn't much to fret about ; all 
the same, I said to myself, I should like to 
see mademoiselle once more, and wish her 
good-bye and good luck ; for you have a 
long way to go, and are only just setting out 
on the journey that poor old Mere Thibaud 
is finishing. You take life hardly too, and 



A WANDERING STAR. 6 J 

fret about I know not what. But take heart, 
if you do your ' possible,' mademoiselle, it 
will all come right in the end. I don't quite 
know where I am going, but I expect I shall 
soon see my Pierre again. Monsieur l'Abbe 
says that all good sailors and soldiers who die 
for their country go straight to Paradise, and 
le bon Dieu couldn't be so angry with me as 
to separate me from my boy. J'ai fait mon 
possible," and Mere Thibaud raises herself 
on her arm, and a gleam of sorrow comes 
into her eyes as she looks around on the 
floor strewn with chestnuts. " Take some, 
mademoiselle," says she, handing Vega a 
basket, which hangs beside her capacious 
many-pocketed blue apron at the head of her 
bed ; " take a whole basketful, I beg of you. I 
can't carry my chestnuts away with me. I 
suppose one never eats or drinks, or does 
any work in Paradise," she adds, half regret- 
fully, " and it would make me so happy to 
see you take a basketful." 

Vega does exactly as Mere Thibaud wishes. 

" I am so sorry, Mere Thibaud," she says, 
sadly ; " I will miss you so very much." 

F 2 



. 



68 A WANDERING STAR. 

A gleam of satisfaction passes over the 
old woman's face. 

" I think you will, mademoiselle, for a 
good while, when you pass the corner of the 
Arcade ; I am glad of that. I don't want you 
to be sad, but it won't make you very sad 
just to say now and then as you pass, ' I 
wish the old woman was here again,' and 
it pleases me to think of it. Perhaps 
I shall know as much as that where I am 



6' 



going 

Vega is as ignorant as herself about the 
unknown land to which Mere Thibaud is 
hastening, and all she can do is to stoop 
down, and kiss the wrinkled old face that is 
lying so quietly on the coarse pillow. Mere 
Thibaud is pleased, but Death is a regular 
Republican, and it does not seem strange 
to the old chestnut-seller that la petite 
mademoiselle should kiss her. 

A little longer they talk, and then Mere 
Thibaud says good-bye to her as quietly as 
if they were to meet again in a short time. 
They shake hands, and it is only Vega who 
weeps. 



A WANDERING STAR. 69 

" It is not even adieu," says the brave old 
woman ; " we shall meet again in Paradise ; it 
is au revoir, mademoiselle/' 

And so the little episode ends, but Vega 
Fitzpatrick realizes that she has one friend 
the less the next time she passes the 
corner where Mere Thibaud once reigned 
supreme. 

" The girl of the people ' is shouting and 
laughing with more sailors, and paying 
very little attention either to the chestnuts, 
or the charcoal fire, which has nearly gone 
out. 

" Tiens ! Tiens ! la petite Anglaise qui se 
promene toujours," she calls out, as her bold, 
roving eyes light on Vega as she passes. 
" Oh ! la ! la ! et la pauvre Mere Thibaud 
qui est pincee," and then bursting forth 
into song, she trolls out the appropriate 
ditty : — 

" Je r'viens d'interrer ma tante 
Voyez que j'ai la larme a l'oeil." 

The men laugh — the girl stamps her sabots 
to mark the time — and Vega hurries quickly 



JO A WANDERING STAR. 

past the stall with a heavier heart than she 
could have imagined possible. 

But greater troubles have now to be faced, 
and the poor old chestnut-seller is perforce 
forgotten. 



A WANDERING STAR. 7T 



CHAPTER IV. 

" Real life is a race through sore trouble 
That gains not an inch on the goal ; 
And bliss an untangible bubble, 
That cheats an unsatisfied soul. 
And the whole 
Of the rest an illegible scroll." 

There has always been so little sympathy 
between Vega and her father, and, in spite of 
the smallness of their poor home, they see 
so little of each other, that she does not 
notice the gradual decay of his strength. 
He has always been silent — always gloomy 
— always anxious to get away from her, and 
every one else, and she does not see that the 
silence and gloom is getting deeper, and that 
his wish for solitude is growing on him every 
day. He spends most of his afternoo'ns 
and evenings at the cercle, and she does 
not know that he is sometimes so weak that 



J2 A WANDERING STAR. 

he can hardly manage to walk even that 
short distance, that he has before now sunk 
down on a friendly doorstep, unable to stand, 
or to drag his weary limbs home, and that 
the cold night wind seems to cut him in two 
like a knife. 

But he is not of those who complain or 
repine, and he has taken his punishment in 
silence too long, not to suffer dumbly to the 
end. 

" The Grasshopper has become a burden," 
but he will go to his long home without a 
murmur. 

One night he and his daughter are sitting 
in almost total silence over their evening 
meal. She is accustomed to his fits of dul- 
ness and depression, and she takes little heed 
of them. 

Custom makes us all sadly callous, and 
Vega does not notice that her father draws 
his hand constantly across his eyes, or that 
he moves his head in a restless uneasy way 
from side to side of the high-backed arm- 
chair in which he sits. 

Her thoughts are far away ; memory is 



A WANDERING STAR. J $ 

busy, and once more she is sailing over 
summer seas in the Gitana ; she is building 
castles in the air like a mere child, and she 
hears Brian Beresford's voice again in her 
day-dreams. 

A shadow across her plate makes her look 
up to see her father's head bent forward 
across the narrow table ; he is looking at her 
with the expression of a demon — an expres- 
sion in which spite, malice, and undying 
hatred seem blended. His eyes are starting 
out of his head, his lips are drawn back, and 
display his sharp white teeth ; his colour is 
livid. The blood seems to run back to her 
heart all at once, for the sight of that con- 
vulsed face might well terrify her. 

Is he going to spring at her ? Will he kill 
her ? He looks like a wild animal, and she feels 
she now knows how much he must always 
have hated her. He flings up an arm in the 
direction of the light that hangs from the 
ceiling above their heads, and then, as it falls, 
his hand knocks over the large old-fashioned 
glass decanter full of vin ordinaire. The 
liquid seems to come in a red wave right 



74 A WANDERING STAR. 

over to Vega, but she cannot move ; it 
rolls nearer, but she feels tied hand and 
foot, and tongue-tied too, so that she cannot 
scream. 

The face that grins at her from the other 
side of the table, Medusa-like, has turned 
her into stone. Her heart all but stops beat- 
ing, and another moment of such agony- 
might well kill her. 

But the silence is broken at last by a 
shriek from her father's lips, that shriek of 
one who is struck down by a fit which, once 
heard, can never be forgotten, and then his 
hands fall at his sides, the nerves that are like 
bands of iron relax, and he slips down from 
the chair, and falls a limp and inert heap on 
the floor. 

The old woman who has been in their 
service ever since Mr. Fitzpatrick, for his 
sins, went into banishment, is upstairs, but 
when that shriek falls on her ears she knows 
what it means all at once, and in a minute 
she is with the distracted girl, and has got the 
poor victim in her strong, vigorous, Norman 
arms. It is but a skeleton that she carries 



A WANDERING STAR. 75 

upstairs, and lays down on the bed from 
which it will never rise again. 

She straightens the poor wasted limbs, 
piles pillows under the unconscious head, and 
fastens back the curtains of the old-fashioned 
French bed to give as much air as possible. 

It is one of those beds, so common in 
France, that nearly fill a small alcove, and 
that with their thick curtains, and high 
wooden sides, have rather the effect of an 
ark in miniature — a bed that seems better 
suited to die in than for peaceful slumbers. 
Vega stands by the bedside shaking in every 
limb ; her small face looks pinched and 
drawn, and the terror that seized her when 
she first caught sight of her father changed 
out of all knowledge, still masters her. 

That face was like the face of a demon, 
and that shriek might have burst from the 
lips of one of the damned. She sees the 
one, she hears the other, and she trembles 
with fear and horror as she looks at the 
motionless figure stretched on the bed. 
Will he open his eyes again ? Will she 
once more see in them that look of vindictive 



j6 A WANDERING STAR. 

hatred ? Is he even now feigning uncon- 
sciousness, and will he spring on her as she 
stands there ? 

It is not the child who helps the father, 
it is Victoire who wipes the froth from his 
lips ; Victoire who unclasps the clenched 
hands, for the nails of the long thin fingers 
are all but imbedded in the wasted flesh ; and 
Victoire who, after one keen glance at the 
poor frightened girl beside her, tells her in a 
voice of authority as well as compassion, 
to go for the doctor as quickly as she 
possibly can. 

The old woman knows perfectly well that 
that figure lying on the bed will neither move 
nor speak for hours, and that nothing could 
possibly happen were she to leave Vega in 
charge, while she herself went in search 
of help. But she is wise, and she knows 
that to be left alone in the house with the 
unconscious man would be more than the 
girl's nerves could stand. Better — a hundred 
times better — for her to face the bitter east 
wind, and any dangers of the night, than to 
be left alone in the house, to hear no sound 



A WANDERING STAR. J J 

but the laboured breathing of the dying man, 
and to see nothing but that rigid form 
stretched on the bed. 

It is a merciful plan of the quick-witted 
old woman. 

Vega obeys her, and there is no doubt 
that the night air and the necessity of haste 
act as a sort of tonic to her nerves. 

The doctor, quiet, kindly, and intelligent, 
is soon with the sick man. He does not say 
or do much, for there is little to be said or 
done, and there is no one to buoy up with 
false hopes, or to break sad news to in sym 
pathizing accents. The patient has neither 
mind nor brain to be touched with the tidings 
of death ; his trembling child is too young and 
ignorant, and the old woman understands the 
situation thoroughly. 

A prescription written in pencil on a leaf 
torn out of his pocket-book, a few words in 
Victoire's ear, a recommendation that the 
sick man should be closely watched, and 
that some one should sit up with him all 
night — and the doctor leaves the house, 
promising to return early in the morning. 



78 A WANDERING STAR. 

But both he and Victoire know it is but 
the becnnninof of the end. 

It is possible that the patient might get 
over his present grievous malady if there 
were any vitality or strength to come and go 
on ; but the last drop of oil is being burned 
in the lamp, and soon, very soon, there will 
be total darkness. Whether he will rally at 
all is a moot point ; if so, he will only suffer 
longer, and die by inches. The doctor is a 
materialist, and a merciful man ; and he 
hopes his patient will have a short shrift. 

He had stood at Lady Mary's death-bed 
long ago ; and though he has stood at 
plenty of death-beds since then, he has 
never quite forgotten that one. He knows, 
half by instinct, half by help of a quick 
intelligence to which it is second nature to 
put two and two together, that things had 
somehow gone wrong with Ralph Fitz- 
patrick, and that he is a man to whom life is 
utterly valueless. 

" One does not wish one's worst enemy 
prolonged torture or suffering, and still less 
to be forced to endure a life which is only so 



A WANDERING STAR. 79 

in name," thinks the doctor, as he hurries 
down the Grande Rue in the teeth of the 
east wind. " When mind and brain are 
both gone, the sooner the heart stops beat- 
ing the better. I don't see what would be 
gained by the contrary. If suffering puri- 
fies, I'll be bound Monsieur Fitzpatrick has 
had enough in his day without needing 
another turn of the screw ! That poor 
fellow has had a living death for the last 
twenty years. I expect his purgatory began 
a good while ago : whether his sins have 
been expiated in the process, or not, I leave 
to Monsieur l'Abbe to decide. We others 
— we fathers of families — are generally of 
some use to our children, if to no one else ; 
but I expect that poor little girl of his won't 
be much the worse for his death. Anyhow, 
it's coming. In a very few days he will be 
at rest at last." 

Victoire and Vega sit up all night with 
the man who lies like a stone in the bed in 
the alcove. There is no danger of their 
sleeping on their watch, for both are over- 
excited, and both feel they are on the eve of 



80 A WANDERING STAR. 

some great change. The old woman keeps 
up the fire, and goes backwards and for- 
wards to the bed, and creaks about the 
room ; but there is no one to notice the 
noise she makes, for the recumbent figure 
under the shadow of the heavy curtains 
neither hears nor sees, and the girl is buried 
in thought. 

There comes a change with the dawn. 
As the light struggles into the room some 
life and feeling seem to return to Mr. 
Fitzpatrick. His eyes open once more, 
though they look dull and dead, and there 
is neither meaning nor understanding in 
their expression, but to the poor head comes 
some sensation of pain, for it moves 
uneasily backwards and forwards on the 
pillow, and the hands, which have lain 
like a dead man's hands on the counter- 
pane, grope about as if trying to find some- 
thing. 

The two watchers stand beside him, but 
either he cannot see them, or he takes no 
notice of their presence. The fingers grope 
on — eye or brain does not seem to guide 



A WANDERING STAR. 8 1 

them, but they are untiring, and twitch 
about without ceasing. 

At last the dim eyes seem to brighten, 
and a ray of something like intelligence 
dawns. The fingers have found what they 
were seeking : they have picked up an imag- 
inary pack of cards, and are now dealing 
them quickly and eagerly. 

The dumb show seems to satisfy him, 
though whether he sees or feels those 
phantom cards between his fingers must 
remain for ever a moot point. 

Over and over again the cards are 
shuffled, cut, dealt, and the trump card 
turned up — he is always the dealer — 
and sometimes he seems to play a hand. 
Sometimes that is omitted, and the 
shuffling, cutting, and dealing goes on 
without the intermission of the imaginary 
game. 

A few words are spoken now and then, 
but they always refer to the business on 
hand, or to persistent bad luck. 

" The devil himself couldn't play with 
such cards," he says angrily once : and the 

vol. 1. G 



82 A WANDERING STAR. 

shuffling and re-shuffling goes on harder 
than ever. 

Later in the day the doctor comes and 
looks on, but his patient is too much 
occupied with his game to see him, and his 
hands wave in the air as he shuffles that 
ghostly pack. The doctor stands watching 
him for some time, and then he bends over 
him, taking one of the poor nervous hands 
in his own as he does so ; and then, in a 
voice which sounds loud and almost dicta- 
torial in the ears of his listeners, he asks 
him if he has no friend who could come to 
him — no letter to write — no business to 
attend to ? He talks thus loudly in a vain 
effort to arrest the dying man's attention, 
and he stoops close to him as he repeats the 
question almost in his ear. 

But no answer comes : no light of recog- 
nition shines in his dim eyes ; and when the 
doctor lets go his hand, the nervous fingers 
return to their work once more. 

The doctor shrugs his shoulders — -not in 
indifference, but from utter hopelessness to 
make the dying man understand. 



A WANDERING STAR. 83 

Were the wealth of all the Indies his to 
dispose of, and could one nod indicate his 
will or wishes, he would die with those wishes 
unexpressed. 

He is not dead, but he is gone, and all 
that remains of life is to be seen in the 
mechanical action of those ringers that con- 
tinue the avocation to which they have 
been so well trained. 

" Don't leave him alone, give him nourish- 
ment if he can be made to take it, try and 
get mademoiselle to repose herself a little, 
and send for me if there is any change." 
These are the doctor's last words as he 
departs, leaving the dying man in the charge 
of a shrinking, frightened child, and of an 
old woman, who, good worthy soul as she is, 
has never felt anything but a distrustful anti- 
pathy to the gloomy distant man whom she 
has called " master " for many years. 

She does her duty now as faithfully as if 
her service " was all for love, and nothing 
for reward." As it is, there is no love, and 
all her reward will be the consciousness of 
having done her duty, and stood by the 

g 2 



84 A WANDERING STAR. 

child whom she looks on almost as her 

own. 

" The weary day rins doon, and dees, 
The weary night wears through," 

and still Ralph Fitzpatrick is in no hurry to 
go. He lies in a state that is neither waking 
nor sleeping. It would be semi-unconscious- 
ness were it not that his head moves always 
from side to side of the pillow, and that 
neither head nor hands can rest. 

A few words spoken at long intervals 
show on what his thoughts are running, 
"honours," "tricks," now this card and now 
that, and ever and anon he rails at his ill 
fortune over some imaginary game. 

The night draws on once more, and 
Victoire makes up a huge fire ; she piles up 
the wood, and builds the charbon de terre 
above it with a much more liberal hand than 
is her wont ; then she wheels two large arm- 
chairs close to the hearth. "Mademoiselle, 
you are tired, you did not close your eyes 
last night. I beg, I pray of you to rest a 
little, even to try and sleep to-night. You 
will be worn out, exhausted otherwise, and 



A WANDERING STAR. 85 

there is much before you. Trust to me, my 
dear ! Monsieur shall want for nothing. I 
will watch him so carefully while you sleep. 

But the tables are turned, for it is Vega 
who does not close her eyes, and Victoire, 
who once she is comfortably settled in the 
large arm-chair in front of the warm fire, feels 
her fatigues of the night before and the 
weight of her sixty years too much for her, 
and after a valiant effort to keep herself 
awake, gives up the fight altogether, and 
sleeps the sleep of the just ! 

The firelight plays on the wrinkled old 
face that looks curiously dark and worn in 
the shadow of the high bonnet blanc that 
frames it ; the figure lying on the bed is half 
hidden by the curtains ; nothing is to be 
seen but the white hands and thin arms that 
move on without ceasing ; the silence may 
be felt, and the girl's nerves are in such a 
state of tension that the slightest thing would 
make her scream out. 

She has not the heart to disturb Victoire, 
but she wishes, oh ! how much she wishes, 
that she would only keep awake ! 



86 A WANDERING STAR. 

She mends the fire with more noise than 
is necessary, but Victoire sleeps on, and it 
does not disturb her father's calculations for 
a moment. 

The deep tones of the great bell of 
St. Jacques ring out hour after hour. 
Eleven ! twelve ! one ! two ! and still Vega 
is practically alone. And now her father 
begins to talk louder and more excitedly, 
and his head sways like a pendulum from 
side to side. His daughter steals over to 
his bedside ; were she older, or had she 
more sad experience of illness and death, 
she would be struck by the curious change 
that has come over his face, and by 
the greyish-yellow pallor of his skin. But 
all she notices is that his hands move more 
and more feebly, though they are never still 
for a moment. Words that cannot be made 
out come from his parched throat and 
blackened lips ; they pour in an incessant 
stream, and then all at once, with a con- 
vulsive effort, he half sits, half rises in bed. 
He looks full at Vega, but it is not her 
he sees, but some comrade of his early days. 



A WANDERING STAR. 87 

" The king of clubs ! Yes ! yes ! Philip, 
I did it, but the devil himself tempted me ! " 

The dying man makes one supreme effort 
as if to rise from bed, but a frightful spasm 
seizes him, while blood pours from his mouth. 

Once more the red stream seems as if it 
was coming towards Vega. She gives a loud, 
terrified scream. Victoire awakes, and hurries 
across the room, but before she reaches the 
bedside all is over. 

So died Ralph Fitzpatrick, neither re- 
pentant nor contrite. He made no " good 
ending " to a bad life, but at least he left the 
world with no falsehood on his lips. 

He had sinned, sinned beyond the world's 
forgiveness, but his punishment had been a 
heavy one, and perhaps his evil doings were 
more than half expiated before his soul left 
his body. 



88 A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER V. 

" We know not whether they slumber 

Who waken on earth no more, 
As the stars of the height in number, 

As sands on the deep sea-shore. 
Shall stiffness bind them, and starkness 

Enthral them by field and flood ? 
Till the sun shall be turned to darkness 

And the moon shall be turned to blood." 

When the heart of man waxes faint 
within him by reason of sore trouble, he has 
at least one poor comfort. 

The greater swallows up the less, and 
much passes unheeded by him which, were 
his grief less poignant, would prey on his 
mind and nerves, and make his sorrow still 
more unendurable. 

But his head is bowed in the dust, and his 
eyes are blinded because of the desolation 
that spreads as a black veil around him. 



A WANDERING STAR. 89 

All the sad details that jar on the senses, 
the miserable routine that must be carried 
out, the indifference of those who ought not 
to be indifferent, all is lost on those who are 
mourners in reality as well as in name. 

Not so on those who count it as one of 
their chief misfortunes that they cannot 
sorrow enough. Not a pang is spared them 
of the minor troubles that follow in the wake 
of death, for they are alive to them all. 

The girl who was now fatherless felt this 
all bitterly, and lonely and forlorn as she 
was, she suffered a kind of martyrdom. 

Her father's sudden death shook her nerves ; 
the dismal sights and sounds in the house 
before he was carried out of it dismayed 
her ; the very absence of mourners, or even 
of an expression of sorrow from any one, 
hurt her. 

There are also many melancholy avoca- 
tions that are bound to fall even on the most 
broken-hearted after their dead are hid away 
from their sight for ever, and which, in spite 
of the pain they give, have their own drastic 
uses, for they rouse into exertion those 



90 A WANDERING STAR. 

who feel that all is vanity and vexation of 
spirit. 

But Vega has no duties at all to distract 
her attention ; no well-meant but stereotyped 
letters of condolence arrive, requiring long 
answers on deeply-bordered paper, and there 
is no necessity to talk business with any one, 
for there is nothing to discuss. 

The pittance on which Mr. Fitzpatrick 
dragged out his existence is Vega's now, as 
it has always been. 

There was none of that terrible setting in 
order of the dead man's possessions which 
makes those who survive feel like the thieves 
alike of property and secrets — there were no 
despatch boxes to be opened with a key 
which had never for a moment been out of 
its late owner's keeping — no business letters 
to be carefully examined — no money appro- 
priated — no jewel-box rifled — no mine sprung 
in the shape of a bundle of letters in a 
woman's hand — no reflections made on the 
wisdom or the folly of the dead which a know- 
ledge of his inner life now renders possible. 
No clothes lie in heaps on the floor to be 



A WANDERING STAR. 9 1 

eyed greedily by paid retainers, and no 
souvenirs are despatched in the vain hope 
that now and then a thought of the dead 
may be evoked by their aid. 

Naked we came into the world, and perhaps 
it is just as well when we quit it in much the 
same condition. 

When there is nothing to leave behind 
there can be no heartburnings, and at least the 
mourners do not quarrel over the will when 
there is no document of the kind ! 

Mr. Fitzpatrick's valuables had long since 
disappeared — a few T half worn-out clothes — a 
small desk that contained little but two or 
three photographs of a young, blooming girl 
in the garments of a quarter of a century 
ago, with " Mary Vivian ' written across 
them — a few unimportant documents — and 
a letter ready stamped for the post — are 
all that can be found. 

The letter is addressed to Colonel Darner, 
Conholt Park, Blankshire. There is np 
doubt what ought to be done with it, 
and Vega takes it herself to the post, 
little thinking how much the reception that 



92 A WANDERING STAR. 

this letter may receive will affect her future 
life. 

In the meantime the unexpected, as usual, 
arrives, and the girl, to her own great sur- 
prise, finds herself taken possession of by a 
family of whom she has known nothing, and 
cared less, but who have lived a careless out- 
at-elbows, happy-go-lucky life at Dieppe for 
almost as long a time as the Fitzpatricks 
themselves. They are Irish, and poor, and 
kindhearted ; so Major Bushe forgets Mr. 
Fitzpatricks steady avoidance of himself, 
and Mrs. Bushe forgets that some advice 
she once tendered on the subject of Vega's 
health was ill received by him, and the 
rough, unrefined, lively boys and girls forget 
how little they have always had in common 
with Vega, and before her father has been 
dead a week she has left for ever the house 
in which he lived and suffered for so many 
years, and which is all the home she has 
ever known. 

Victoire is paid off, and with all her 
master's possessions to the good, with 
the exception of his old desk, she has 



A WANDERING STAR. 93 

returned to the Pollet and the society of 
her equals, while Vega — poor little Vega ! — 
has drifted for the time being into the Bushe 
family, and forms one of that unthrifty, un- 
tidy, but hospitable household. 

She never for a moment believes that her 
visit to them will last more than a week or 
two at the outside, but, at the same time, she 
never reflects what is to be the next move in 
the game. 

"We're delighted to see you, me dear," 
says Major Bushe, while Mrs. Bushe kisses 
her effusively ; " stay with us as long as you 
like, me poor choild ; the longer you stay 
the better we shall be pleased ; ' and if 
under the rose, both Major and Mrs. Bushe 
thought, and even confided to each other 
in the watches of the night, that her poor 
pittance would materially help their very 
embarrassed budget, no one could blame 
them, for that the Bushe shoe pinched most 
unpleasantly was an undisputed fact ! 

In the meantime let us follow the letter 
which Mr. Fitzpatrick had destined for 
Colonel Darner, and see what comes of it. 



94 A WANDERING STAR. 

The post at Conholt Park arrives at break- 
fast time, and a more ill-timed hour, from 
Lady Julia's point of view, cannot be 
imagined. In her early married days, when 
young men not only loved her, but were 
capable of putting pen to paper to tell her 
so, she was always haunted by the idea that 
Colonel Darner might play the part of a 
jealous husband, and might insist on more 
than elegant extracts from her corre- 
spondence. In later days, when both young 
men and love-letters were not so plentiful, 
and when she had found out, partly to her 
satisfaction, partly to her annoyance, that 
her husband was incapable of jealousy, she 
has still an instinctive dislike to this public 
arrival of letters. 

On the morning that Mr. Fitzpatricks 
letter reaches Conholt Park both she and 
her liege lord are seated opposite each other, 
breakfasting at a small round table that is 
pushed delightfully near the fire. They are 
both arrayed for the chase, and he looks a 
model of all that a well-looking, well-turned- 
out, and well - conditioned Englishman 



A WANDERING STAR. 95 

should look in red coat and faultless boots and 
breeches. She, however — always a remark- 
able-looking woman — is distinctly noticeable 
in her hunting things. 

She is " more than common tall," and her 
splendid figure is literally moulded into the 
smartest of red coats. Lady Julia is one 
of the few who can afford to be daring in 
the matter of clothes ; whatever she wears 
looks right, but woe betide those who 
attempt to imitate her ! Her handsome, 
well-shaped head looks to greater advantage 
than ever now that the masses of dark hair 
that are its crown of glory are closely plaited 
in a neat, workmanlike coil. She can stand 
the severity of the man's tie, of the horse- 
cloth waistcoat, and the short, the very 
short, dark cloth skirt displays the most 
perfect foot that could be seen anywhere, and 
which now looks its best in the smartest of 
riding boots. 

The Darners are alone, for a wonder, and 
as the meet to-day is not far from Conholt 
Park, they can afford to take time over their 
breakfast. 



96 A WANDERING STAR. 

" What on earth are you frowning at, 
Reginald ? ' asks her ladyship, as, her own 
correspondence run through, she catches 
sight of her husband, who, with a face full 
of thought and care, is bending over a letter 
spread out before him ; his breakfast is 
neglected, and Lady Julia's voice is unheard. 

" I think you might give me a civil answer 
when I speak to you," she goes on. " I 
suppose some of your ridiculous speculations 
have gone wrong again. You will be hard 
hit one of these days, and you will have 
only yourself to thank. You know no more 
about business than my pug dog here, and 
yet you will dabble on at it, and only get 
laughed at for your trouble, and fritter away 
money that might be better employed some 
other way. But it is always the same, 
Reginald. You always think you must 
know better than any one else." 

Colonel Darner looks up ; he has not 
listened to Lady Julia's remarks, but instinc- 
tively he knows their drift. He looks at his 
wife for a moment critically. 

" Shall I," he thinks to himself, " throw 



A WANDERING STAR. 97 

myself on whatever good heart or good 
feelings she may possess ? If I could only 
manage to make some su^Qrestion of kindness 
come from her, we might yet do, for if I have 
to carry out any plan with her ladyship in 
opposition there will be the devil to pay with 
a vengeance. I have no great confidence in 
her mercy or goodness, I must say. She has 
never thought of any one but herself ever 
since I have known her, and I am not very 
sanguine that she will begin now. Well ! 
here goes ! I see no other course open ! " 

Aloud he says, " Read this letter, Julia. 
I am sure your kind heart will be touched by 
it, and I should like to have your advice 
about it all. Your quick mind will hit on 
some plan, I am sure." 

Ralph Fitzpatrick's letter is in Lady Julia's 
hands, and she reads it attentively ; it runs 
as follows : — 

My dear Damer, — 

In old days we were very good friends, though 

not such close friends as to warrant my turning to you 

as I now do. But when a man is between the devil 

and the deep sea, he is not apt to be over-scrupulous. 

VOL. I. II 



98 A WANDERING STAR. 

I shall be out of this world altogether before this reaches 
you, and my girl will be utterly friendless. I have no 
right to ask you to hold out a helping hand to her, and 
it is not even fair to put you in such a position. All the 
same I ask you to take some care of her. Think of 
her as Mary's child, not mine. After all she is of your 
own blood. You always were a good fellow, Damer, and 
I believe you will do this. So sure do I feel about it, 
that I have a certain amount of comfort now I have got 
this written. I don't know how you will befriend her, 
but you won't lose sight of the poor little thing. I am 
safe with you, though I bind on your shoulders a burden 
that I have no right to put on them. — Yours, &c, 

Ralph Fitzpatrick. 

To do her justice, Lady Julia does not 
read these words quite unmoved. She is 
touched by their hopelessness, and even the 
feebleness of the shaky writing is not lost on 
her. She is not her hard, worldly, plain- 
spoken self for a minute or two. 

"A terribly sad letter, is it not ?" says the 
Colonel, as he watches with a certain amount 
of hopefulness the expression of his wife's 
countenance. " How that poor fellow must 
have suffered! He was always as proud as 
Lucifer, and he must have felt it a bitter pill 
to write as much as this even to me. Poor 



A WANDERING STAR. 99 

Ralph ! I suppose it was about the last 
ordeal that he had to face, but it is a mercy 
that he was able to bring himself to do it. 
What in the world would have become of 
that beautiful little girl of his if he had let us 
know nothing ?" 

Lady Julia's kindlier feelings are fast dis- 
appearing ; she will soon be herself again. 

" At the same time, Reginald, you must 
allow that it puts us in a very awkward 
position. This legacy of a girl of seventeen 
is very embarrassing, and I don't know in 
the least what you are to do. You never 
would be so mad as to adopt other people's 
children ? " 

" I ought to run over for myself and see 
how the land lies," says the Colonel ; " for 
all I know Vega Fitzpatrick may be utterly 
forlorn and alone at Dieppe. It would be 
on my conscience for ever if after getting 
that letter I did nothing at all. The only way 
I can answer it is by going there myself." 

There is a long pause ; Lady Julia, for a 
wonder, has no answer ready ; she is busy 
balancing the different pros and cons. She 

h 2 



IOO A WANDERING STAR. 

is clever enough to see that she cannot 
make the Colonel ignore that letter alto- 
gether, and she means to reserve her strength, 
and show fight only if there should be any 
idea of bringing Vega over to England to 
make Conholt Park her home. 

" She is practically uneducated," she 
thinks; "and school could always be sug- 
gested for a year or two — but in that case 
who would pay ? Reginald has such endless 
calls on him, and I think he would be quite 
unjustified in accepting such a burden. 
There is no doubt that it would be much 
cheaper to let her come here for a time. 
But Heaven forbid that I, who always con- 
gratulate myself on having no children of 
my own, should be saddled with a ready- 
made daughter ! That would be a little too 
much of a good thing ! At my age, and with 
my looks, to sink into a chaperone ! No, 
indeed ! I wonder how it would do to get 
Hermione to take her ? Hermione is so 
grasping, and so poor, that a very little 
money would tempt her, and it would do 
Miss Vega some good to be kept in the 



A WANDERING STAR. IOI 

background with Pussie and Dottie for a 
little ; there's always that plan to be thought 
of if the worst comes to the worst." 

She once more addresses her husband. 
" You must promise me, Reginald, if you do 
go over there, to commit yourself to nothing 
without consulting me. Men never under- 
stand how to manage a girl, and you would 
be certain to blunder on some impossible 
plan if you attempted to interfere. To begin 
with, I think it utterly unnecessary for you 
to go to Dieppe at all. The Fitzpatricks 
are certain to have made plenty of friends 
of their own sort there. Some of them 
would be sure to do all that was needful. If 
I were you I should wait till I heard more." 

" I have made up my mind, Julia," says 
the Colonel, in a determined tone, "and I 
shall cross to-night ; but I don't see any 
reason for losing a day's hunting, as by 
driving to Grimthorpe I shall be able to 
catch the evening train. I will be in Dieppe 
to-morrow morning, and you shall hear what 
I am about soon after." 

When he has really made up his mind, 



102 A WANDERING STAR. 

Lady Julia knows that she has no chance of 
turning him from his purpose, so she does 
not continue the discussion, but with the air 
of one who is ill-used, and who feels herself 
unjustly treated, she sweeps out of the room 
with her handsome head held high in the 
air ! 

We need neither follow the Colonel across 
country, especially as he had but a moderate 
day's sport, nor cross the Channel with him 
in the Newhaven and Dieppe steamer. But 
we may rejoin him the next morning when, 
after some difficulty, he succeeds in finding 
the abode of the Bushe family — a shabby 
stuccoed villa, which is neither actually in 
the town of Dieppe proper nor in the country, 
but which stands by itself in an untidy 
garden somewhat in the rear of one of the 
Boulevards. A rough-and-ready peasant 
woman — a hard-featured Norman — clad in 
the indigo blue which is the uniform of her 
class in Northern France, is cleaning pots 
and pans at an open window close to the 
front door as the Colonel walks up the over- 
grown weedy footpath ; and as she washes 



A WANDERING STAR. IO3 

the water slops down the wall of the house 
and forms a puddle among the pebbles 
below. There is plenty of life about in the 
shape of cocks and hens, an old dog or two, 
and a huge tortoiseshell cat, who sits on the 
doorstep blinking at nothing, and there is 
evidently as much life inside the house, to 
judge by the babel of voices, the loud 
laughter, and the general want of repose 
that seems in the air! 

The cook stops her cleaning operations as 
she catches sight of Colonel Darner, but 
does not "derange herself" till she has 
thoroughly made him out and ascertained 
the cause of his arrival. Then without 
haste she leaves her copper pans balanced 
on the window-sill, and clatters out of her 
kitchen to lead the way upstairs. The house 
seems close, ill-ventilated, and stuffy, and a 
mingled odour of onions and cabbages from 
the kitchen strikes the Colonel as being 
uncommonly disagreeable as he follows the 
bonne up the narrow, uncarpeted stone 
stairs. 

The old woman flings open the door of 



104 A WANDERING STAR. 

the room from which all the noise seems to 
come. . . " Un Monsieur qui demande 
Mademoiselle," she shouts with stentorian 
lungs, and Colonel Darner finds himself 
launched into the society of the younger 
members of the Bushe family. 

The room, which is by no means palatial, 
is full of human beings ; a tall, untidy-look- 
ing girl, with dishevelled hair, who is no 
doubt Miss Bushe par excellence, bends over 
the fire with a dirty Tauchnitz novel in her 
hand ; another sister, evidently the Penelope 
of the family, in a terrible flannel dressing- 
gown, is making a hat, or a bonnet, and has 
the materials of her trade, in the shape of 
some mangy feathers and crumpled ribbon, 
spread on a table in front of her — two or 
three little Bushes, with headless dolls and 
broken toys, play and quarrel on the floor, 
while in the window, half buried in a huge arm- 
chair, is the girl that he has come so far to find. 

Her sweet little face is far paler and 
smaller than when Colonel Darner last saw 
it radiant with mirth and happiness on board 
his yacht, but its beauty strikes him afresh. 



A WANDERING STAR. 105 

It would seem as if he had half forgotten its 
loveliness. 

She is thin, sadly thin, and her plain black 
frock makes her slim body look still more 
fragile and slender. She too has a book in 
her hand, but she is by no means immersed 
in it, and her expression is both sad and 
listless. No sooner, however, does she catch 
sight of Colonel Darner than her listlessness, 
and even her sadness, disappears as if by 
magic. The poor child feels that a friend has 
come to her at last, and for a minute or two 
she cannot speak by reason of her great joy. 
The Colonel has both her small hands in his, 
and they form the centre of a curious group. 

Miss Bushe closes her Tauchnitz, the 
bonnet maker winds up business, and needle 
in hand draws near . . the quarrel- 
some children are for once united in their 
desire to see what is going on, and gaze up 
open-mouthed at Colonel Darner and Miss 
Fitzpatrick. As for her, poor child, the 
arrival of the Colonel seems to mean life and 
hope. The Bushe family have not been un- 
kind to her ; on the contrary, they have 



106 A WANDERING STAR. 

petted and made much of her, but fire and 
water could as easily mingle as themselves 
and the delicate, highly strung, sensitive girl, 
brought up as she had been in the almost 
exclusive society of a man of fastidious 
manners and habits, who, whatever his 
faults and failings were, was grand seigneur 
by nature and tradition. 

11 My little Vega," says Colonel Darner, in 
tones of real affection, as soon as the girls 
almost hysterical joy over his arrival is some- 
what subdued, " I have come over here on 
purpose to see you." 

" To see me ? From England ? ' asks 
Vega. She can hardly believe her ears. Is 
it possible that any one could take so much 
trouble about her ? Was she worthy of being 
thus sought ? 

A lovely flush dyes her cheeks — a dewy 
light comes into her eyes — perhaps life has 
some compensations after all ! perhaps she 
will not be utterly forsaken ! For a moment 
she looks like the Ve^a who found each long 
summer day too short for happiness nearly a 
year ago on board his yacht, and then she is 



A WANDERING STAR. 10/ 

recalled to the realities of life by the arrival 
of Mrs. Bushe on the scene — Mrs. Bushe, 
who has hastily crowned herself with a gor- 
geous erection of ribbons and flowers, and 
has unearthed from her " jool box ' some 
bog-oak ornaments and a large gold locket 
the size of a warming-pan, which is fully 
displayed on her ample bust ! Her gown 
has long since seen its best days, and has 
not stood the wear and tear of time well ; 
but there is no time to make a change, "and 
the Colonel will make allowance for French 
ways and habits, and wouldn't look to see 
me at this time of the morning in anything 
but negligee!" 

" Presint the Colonel to me, Vega, me 
dear," says Mrs. Bushe as she sweeps up 
to the central figures round which her own 
family form a kind of fringe. 

The good soul believes that she has 
acquired a great deal of "French polish' 
since she left the County Clare, and has 
a secret conviction that Colonel Darner will 
recognize in her a great lady who has rather 
come down in the world. 



108 A WANDERING STAR. 

The Colonel, however, only sees before him 
one of the most preposterous-looking figures 
he has ever set eyes on, and his amazement 
is increased when Major Bushe appears on 
the scene. No foreign veneer overlays his 
Irish individuality. A squireen he was born, 
as a squireen he was moulded by nature's 
whimsical hand, and a squireen he will re- 
main to the end of the chapter, though it is 
years since he has seen that green valley in 
the County Clare where his " purty little pro- 
perty " is situated, and it is likely to be still 
longer before his foot is once more on his 
native bog, or he puts himself within shoot- 
ing distance of his handful of ill-disposed 
tenants. 

Before Colonel Darner knows what he is 
about, Major Bushe and his worthy spouse 
have spirited him away with them, and the 
three find themselves in the dining-room, 
whose only remarkable feature seems to be 
the immense disproportion between the size 
of the large table and the dimensions of the 
small room. 

<; Now we can talk sinse, Colonel," says 



A WANDERING STAR. IO9 

Major Bushe, jauntily, as he places a sound 
chair for his visitor, and seats himself in an 
airy fashion on the table, on which a very 
shady table-cloth covered with the crumbs 
of the morning meal has been allowed to 
remain ; " when the childer are about one 
can't hear oneself speak, and I can assure ye 
I am glad to see a friend of poor little 
Vega's. We must try and see what the 
whole of us can do to help the poor 
little thing. Ye're her cousin, Colonel, 
ar n t you r 

" Yes," answers the Colonel, stiffly, not 
much relishing Major Bushe's familiarity, 
"and I can only say I am extremely obliged 
to you for all your kindness to her." 

"It's nothing — nothing at all," returns 
Major Bushe, with a wave of his hand in 
the direction of his wife. " Mrs. Bushe 
feels like a mother to her. Why, Vega's 
just like one of our own, and we wish noth- 
ing better than to keep her with us always. 
If you're agreeable, Colonel, we will keep 
her, though I'm thinking some foine young 
man will be round one of these days, and 



IIO A WANDERING STAR. 

then it will be a case of good-bye to the 
poor Bushes. " 

"At the same time, we are bound, for her 
own sake," chimes in Mrs. Bushe, in insinu- 
ating accents, "to let you know that we are 
poor people. In the old days, when we kept 
what might be called ' open house ' at Bally- 
massagart, the poor child would have been 
welcome to the run of her teeth, and we'd 
have quarrelled with any one who'd ever have 
talked of money passing between us. ' Mais 
nous avong changee tout cela-r ! ' quotes 
Mrs. Bushe, in villanous French, " and it is 
our duty now to think of our large family 
and their prospects." 

" I understand perfectly," says the Colonel, 
"and you may rest assured that if my cousin 
stays on with you there will be no difficulty 
about money. But my own plans are not 
yet settled, and I have not made up my 
mind yet what will be best for her." 

Major and Mrs. Bushe exchange glances 
with each other. 

" No difficulty about money ! ' The words 
sound almost incredibly delightful in their 



A WANDERING STAR. T 1 1 

ears, and make them more anxious than ever 
either for Vega's society or for the material 
help that will accompany it. 

" If I might venture to make a sugges- 
tion," says Major Bushe, in the smoothest of 
tones, and his eye is positively watery as he 
speaks, " I would remark that Vega would 
be much happier here with us all than the 
poor choild could be anywhere else. She 
has known us for years ; ivery one of my 
boys and girls are like brothers and sisters 
to her; Mrs. Bushe would be her second 
mother, and as Vega has lived always in 
France, and is a French girl, so to speak, she 
would miss all the fun and the ' sang gene ' 
of life abroad if she went back to England. 
England is all very well for the rich and 
great, Colonel, but for the lowly and the 
poor, even though their ancistry may take 
them back to the kings of Oireland, give me 
the gaiety and the cheap amusements of all 
sorts that we can get here. Leave Ve^a to 
us, Colonel, and she will be a happy 
y-url." 
If Lady Julia had accompanied the 



C 



112 A WANDERING STAR. 

Colonel, little time, indeed, would have been 
lost in closing with this offer. The more, 
however, that Major and Mrs. Bushe urged 
the advantages of life at " Mong Plaisir," as 
they call their villa, and the great affection 
that they bear to Vega, the more does the 
plan of leaving Vega there seem a distaste- 
ful one to Colonel Darner. 

"Would you ask Vega to put on her hat, 
and I will take her for a walk," says the 
Colonel, at last, to Mrs. Bushe ; " I should 
like to have a little talk with her before 
settling anything. It is impossible for me 
to make up my mind all at once." 

Half an hour later and Colonel Darner 
and his little cousin are walking on the edge 
of the close-cropped down, above the chalky 
cliffs that fall so sheer into the sea that rolls 
at their base. 

It is a lovely winter day ; sea and sky are 
both beautifully blue,and the sails of the differ- 
ent fishing boats — the cliffs that cut so boldly 
the horizon line — even the sheep that are 
scattered over the down, all seem dazzlingly 
white, while the air is clear and keen. It is 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 I 3 

long since there has been so much spring in 
Vega's light foot, or so much joy in her lovely 
eyes. She seems suddenly to have awoke 
from a long sleep. The sun once more warms 
her ; the breeze blows fair ; she sees the 
well-known picture of steep cliffs and open 
sea, and it gives her joy again. 

Every gull that skims the blue waters, 
every ship that sails up the Channel, seems 
to add to her happiness. She no longer 
walks in a day-dream, thinking either of the 
short but glorious past, or fretting over her 
present troubles. Hope has sprung to life 
once more. She is child enough to put 
her hand in Colonel Darner's, and hand 
in hand the two walk along the narrow 
path at the edge of the cliff. He is 
pleased that she should do this willingly 
and of her own accord, and the touch 
of that small hand confirms him in his 
resolution. 

" She shall have her choice," he says to 
himself. " Life at Conholt will be no bed of 
roses for the poor child. Lady Julia will 
take care of that ; but, at any rate, it 

vol. 1. 1 



114 A WANDERING STAR. 

wouldn't be the same thing as life with these 
Bushes here. The alternative is a poor one, 
and, upon my word, if I were in her shoes, 
I don't know which I should choose. 
Personally, I should say anything to get 
away from Lady Julia! but then, on the 
other hand, this Bushe family is very terrible. 
For any one gifted with a thick skin there 
need not be a moment's hesitation. Lady 
Julia's words, and Lady Julia's looks, would 
make no impression at all on some people, 
for there are plenty of women as well as men 
who really feel that hard words break no 
bones ; but Vega is not one of that sort. 
She is sensitive, and highly strung to a fault. 
An unkind word would hurt her like a blow. 
Still, could she endure for an indefinite time 
the vulgarity, noise, and confusion of this 
underbred family ? Well ! well ! I am incap- 
able of judging for her — she shall have her 
choice. 

But the girl finds it as hard, or harder, 
to make a decision than even Colonel 
Darner. 

She knows, and he does not, that Lady 



A WANDERING STAR. 115 

Julia is her declared enemy, et pour 
cause. 

She remembers every word that Lady 
Julia uttered, and the dark things that came 
to light, when Vega heard her fathers 
story for the first time, from her envenomed 
lips. 

Ought she to find a home under the roof 
of the woman who hunted her from the 
yacht, who disliked her from the beginning, 
and who was madly jealous of her at the 
end ? On the other hand, Conholt Park — 
all England — seems full of Brian Beresford. 
Let her but once cross the blue streak, and 
she believes she must see him again. And 
then the alternative. Life with the Bushe 
family would no doubt have no storms, no 
scenes, no emotions, but flat, hideous 
monotony ! Better, better far, the vicissi- 
tudes of life, than to rot on such a mud- 
bank. 

" But Lady Julia," she says in a faltering 
voice, — " Lady Julia would not wish me to 



come." 



11 Lady Julia is very sorry for you," says 

1 2 



I 1 6 A WANDERING STAR. 

her husband stoutly ; " I wish you could have 
heard her speaking about you the morning 
before I came away. She was all that was 
kind. You know she sometimes says more 
than she means, and I hope, my dear child, 
that you will always remember that, and 
stand a hard word or two as well as you can, 
if you elect to come to us, which I hope, 
most sincerely, that you will." 

" Did Lady Julia really talk about me 
kindly ? ' asks Vega, eagerly ; let her but 
assure herself that such is the case, and she 
will be undecided no longer. 

" Of course she did, Vega," he answers, 
and if he strays somewhat from the narrow 
path of truth, surely it will be counted to 
him as but a venial sin ; " but you must 
always remember, if you do come to us, that 
whatever happens, you will have a firm friend 
in me." This is perfectly the case, only, 
unfortunately, when husband and wife differ 
seriously, it is not always the best man who 
wins. " You can't possibly stay with these 
Bushes always, kind people as I suppose 
they are," he goes on. " I think I must 



A WANDERING STAR. 11/ 

settle for you, Vega. You had better come 
home with me." 

So the die is cast, much to the disap- 
pointment of Major and Mrs. Bushe, who 
had in imagination already made good 
use of the small but assured pittance 
that would come to them through Vega 
Fitzpatrick. 

" One month more would have made no 
difference at all, at all," laments Mrs. Bushe, 
" and, with all her rich relations, they 
couldn't have offered us less than two 
hundred a year for looking after Vega for 
them." 

" Well, Jemima, me dear, we're no worse 
off than we were," says Major Bushe, who is 
not a lieht-heartcd Irishman from the County 
Clare for nothing; " and you can't say the 
Colonel didn't behave handsome to us. His 
cold, distant ways don't suit me, but all the 
same, I admired him, Jemima, I positively ad- 
mired him when he said to you, ( I hardly dare 
to make so bold, Mrs. Bushe' (or something 
like that), ' but if you would be so kind as 
to buy a suitable present for each of your 



I I 8 A WANDERING STAR. 

family with the contents of this envelope, or 
lay it out in any other way that pleases 
yourself, I should feel much obliged.' I 
couldn't have done it meself with greater 
delicacy, me dear, and faix, we've lost 
Vega, but we're so much to the good at 
any rate. 

" And you, Vega, me darlint," says Major 
Bushe to the girl, as they walk down together 
to the steamer by which Colonel Darner and 
Miss Fitzpatrick are to cross the Channel 
the same evening, " remimber that whativer 
happens, you have always a friend in 
Domenic Bushe, and a home ready and 
waiting for you at ' Mong Plaisir.' You've 
chosen luxury, and wealth, and all the 
honours and glories of this world, and you've 
turned your back on loving hearts, and a 
continted family, and a happy, though 
humble home. The divil fly away wid me, 
but I'd have done the same if I were in your 
shoes," adds the Major, relapsing into the 
squireen for a moment, and with a twinkle 
in his eyes as he thinks of the contrast he 
himself had conjured up. " I only mean to 



A WANDERING STAR. I i 9 

tell you that if you're not happy over there, 
and ve find that all that glitters is not £old, 
ye'll remember there are always the poor 
Bushes to fall back on. Well, good-bye 
again, me dear, and joy go with you." 



120 A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER VI. 

" Ave Faustina Imperatrix." 

" I wish this meeting was well over," 
thinks Colonel Darner to himself as he 
and Vega sit side by side in the luxurious 
brougham that is bringing them almost too 
quickly, to suit his present frame of mind, 
from the Grimthorpe Railway Station to 
Conholt Park. "We shall be home in no 
time at this rate, and I haven't yet settled 
what I am to say to Lady Julia. What Lady 
Julia will say to me is a good deal more to 
the point. Something disagreeable, I expect, 
and lucky if I get off without a regular 
scene. I have one or two chances in my 
favour. One is that she is generally so 
inf — rn — lly busy, has her hands full with 
the Primrose League, or a public meeting,, 
or some entertainment, or getting up a ball 



A WANDERING STAR. 121 



at Grimthorpe, in such a way as to spite all 
her equals and mortify all the small fry of 
the county, or putting people to rights, or 
setting others by the ears, or in a bustle of 
some kind, so that my misdemeanours may 
pass unnoticed. I won't escape altogether. 
Her ladyship never forgets, but the evil day 
may be put off, and in my present frame of 
mind that will be something gained. There 
is always a chance too of getting off in 
quite another way. It would be even 
better than finding her too busy to pitch 
into me. There may be some young 
fool about," and the Colonel smiles a grim 
smile, for no jealous pangs assail him, " and 
he may be such a devoted slave, and satisfy 
even her mania for admiration so thoroughly 
that she may be in quite an angelic mood. I 
have seen such a state of things before now, 
and have blessed the young idiot who 
worshipped at miladi's shrine. Well, here 
we are ! now for it," and the brougham 
pulls up under the great arched porch that 
forms part of the beautiful facade of Conholt 
Park. The massive oaken doors fly open as 



122 A WANDERING STAR. 

the carriage stops, and Vega, as if in a 
dream, enters the first English home she has 
ever known. 

The entrance-hall is crossed, she has a 
vision of oak panels, shining armour, stags' 
heads and huge antlers, while the floor on 
which she walks is now smooth as ice, and 
now covered with thick rugs and heavy 
skins in which her feet sink. They enter a 
long gallery, and here lights gleam, for there 
is a great fireplace at the further end, and a 
large party is grouped about it. The tea- 
table is spread, some of the guests are round 
it, others are sitting near the cheerful blaze, 
while on a low couch on one side sits the 
great, the dreaded Lady Julia. 

This couch stands on a platform which, 
though raised but one low step above the rest 
of the room, gains importance in con- 
sequence. 

It seems to dominate the rest of the sur- 
roundings ; and when Lady Julia, who has 
for long affected one particular corner of it, 
sits there, it seems a regal chair, well suited 
for such a queenly form. 



A WANDERING STAR. I 23 

The grand outlines of her magnificent 
figure become more remarkable, and her 
dress takes the folds of royal robes as it falls 
on the step and sweeps hence to the ground. 
The tawny hues and the yellow gleams in 
that splendid garment that she wears to- 
night recall the colouring of tiger or leopard 
skin. It is imagined to be a tea-gown, but, 
if so, it is a glorified one, for both in the 
skilful blending of the rich warm brown and 
gold, and in the inimitable grace of its every 
line, the hand of an artist may be seen. 

The long loose drapery that does duty for 
sleeves falls from the arms which it does 
not attempt to hide — the beautiful bare arms 
in which Lady Julia takes inordinate pride, 
and which indeed are rarely white and 
rarely shaped. 

A young man — and a remarkably hand- 
some one to boot — sits on the low step close 
to her. She likes her lovers to sit thus at 
her feet. 

Everything is going well with her, and the 

" Cold eyelids that hide like a jewel 
Hard eyes that grow soft for an hour ' ! 



124 A WANDERING STAR. 

give her face almost a soft expression, while 

" The cruel 
Red mouth, like a venomous flower," 

smiles down brightly on her slave. 

" Here we are, my dear Julia," says the 
Colonel, advancing lite a courtier to her 
throne, and rejoicing greatly in his sover- 
eign's gracious looks, even though those 
looks are not meant for him. "We have 
had a desperately long journey, and a very 
tiresome day to-day. These cross-country 
lines are terrible. Here is little Vega, you 
see. 

The slim girl, in her sombre weeds, forms 
a contrast not only to Lady Julia, but to the 
rest of that brilliant-looking band ; and Lady 
Julia, radiant as she is at the present 
moment, feels that any idea of rivalry be- 
tween herself and that slip of a girl is pure 
foolishness. . 

Struck with this thought, she not only 
receives her husband with sufficient cor- 
diality, but half rises from her couch to greet 
Vega Fitzpatrick. 



A WANDERING STAR. I 25 

She bends down to her, and a chilly kiss is 
her reward for looking so pale, worn out, 
and travel-stained. 

" I suppose you are very tired, Vega," 
says the great lady. " Please some one give 
Miss Fitzpatrick tea and something to eat. 
I am so thoroughly worn out myself I am 
not capable of further exertion. We've had 
a splendid day to-day, Reginald. A pity 
you missed it — never had such sport." 

As a matter of fact the sport had been 
rather moderate, but Lady Julia, like most 
hunting women, considers the chase from a 
purely personal point of view. She had un- 
doubtedly gone noticeably well herself in 
two fair gallops ; had cut down the other 
hard-riding ladies who were out ; had gone 
out of her way to take some regular "gal- 
lery ' jumps ; had followed Gray Diddleton, 
the hardest rider in Blankshire, over a 
break-neck place, and had lived to tell the 
tale. 

No wonder she is satisfied with herself, 
and even triumphant. 

" Pussie, my dear, are you taking care of 



126 A WANDERING STAR. 

Miss Fitzpatrick ? " calls out her ladyship, in 
gracious tones. 

"Yes, Bijou," obediently answers a pale 
little girl, who, clad in useful brown serge, 
is sitting behind the tea-urn. She might 
call Lady Julia "aunt," if she only dared, for 
she is her sister's child. 

Lady Julia, however, will not face the 
idea of a grown-up niece, and " Ju," as she 
long ago decreed that Pussie and her sister 
Dottie should call her, has been corrupted 
into " Bijou," with her full consent. 

"Then I think the sooner Miss Fitz- 
patrick is allowed to go upstairs the better 
pleased she will be," says Lady Julia. " My 
dear Pussie, I am not equal to showing the 
way. You have been doing nothing all day 
long, so I don't mind asking you to take 
Miss Fitzpatrick up to her room, and be sure 
and see she has everything she wants." 

" This is too good to last," thinks Colonel 
Darner, as he opens the door for the two 
girls, and repeats in still kinder words his 
wife's injunctions to Pussie Langton. 

u You want to know who she is?' he 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 27 

hears Lady Julia now saying to the Chaste- 
lard who is sitting at her feet. " Oh, she's 
a far-away cousin of the Colonel's, a waif 
and stray with some Vivian blood in her 
veins. She is an orphan, and he has taken 
it into his head to bring her over here — I 
suppose I shall have to be kind to her, 
but I am no good at looking after girls, 
they bore me too much. However, I sup- 
pose she won't be here long. Pussie and 
Dottie are always coming over, and I know 
that my sister Hermione doesn't care for 
them to associate with girls that she knows 
nothing about." And here Lady Julia 
laughs. " Hermione has grown so very 
particular now-a-days, and this girl has been 
knocking about abroad all her life, and we 
really know very little about her." 

" What a perfect angel you are ! You are 
kind and good to every one," says Chas- 
telard admiringly. " I am sure, all the 
same, it must be an awful nuisance to you 
to have a girl always about — but you are 
simply wonderful." 

''After that I may depart with a mind at 



128 A WANDERING STAR. 

peace !" thinks the Colonel to himself; " I 
shall have no scolding from her ladyship to- 
night ! " 

In the meantime the two girls have 
crossed the round hall, and have mounted 
the principal staircase of the house, whose 
panelled walls, hung with the pictures of 
many a dead-and-gone Darner, and low 
broad oaken steps, covered with carpets so 
thick and velvety that no step that treads on 
them can be heard, form a contrast to the 
next flight of stairs up which they climb. 
These steep stone stairs, with their plain 
whitewashed walls, evidently lead, if not to 
the servants' quarters, at any rate to an in- 
ferior part of the house ; but after they are 
ascended there is yet another short flight 
which winds corkscrew-fashion before they 
reach the bare and scantily-furnished room 
at the top of the turret which is destined 
for Miss Fitzpatrick. It is not an uncom- 
fortable room, but neither is it a room chosen 
for an honoured guest. It is but meanly 
garnished, and seems to offer no hospitable 
welcome to the new-comer. The fire has 



A WANDERING STAR. I 29 

just been lighted, the sticks splutter damply, 
and the smoke seems disinclined to go up 
the chimney. To those who go delicately 
all their days, and to whom comfort and 
luxury are as second nature, these poor 
quarters, and the evident want of either 
attention or preparation, would seem a kind 
of insult, while the sensitive and timid would 
feel hurt by the coldness of the welcome that 
is indicated. 

Everything is relative, however, and as 
Vega has never known either comfort or 
luxury, and as she has never been welcomed 
anywhere, she does not miss what has never 
been hers. After all, this room is no barer 
than was her room in the only house that 
she ever called home, and if the noisy 
welcome that the Bushes had given 
her to " Mong Plaisir ' had distracted her 
attention just at first from the dirt and 
dilapidation of that shabby abode, they had 
been thrust on her notice very soon after- 
wards. 

Miss Langton does not take much trouble 
to do the honours to the new arrival. She 
vol. 1. K 



J3O A WANDERING STAR. 

looks round the room in an apathetic kind 
of way. 

" Aunt Julia said I was to be sure and 
see you had everything you wanted." 

She repeats her aunt's words in parrot-like 
fashion, and, as if to follow out her instruc- 
tions to the letter, she peeps first into the 
soap-dish and then into an ink-stained 
blotting-book ; she seems relieved to find 
that neither soap, nor two sheets of writing- 
paper, and the blackened stump of a pen, are 
wanting, and then she sinks supinely into an 
old-fashioned arm-chair that guards the in- 
hospitable hearth. 

The two girls have hardly spoken at all, 
and have certainly made no noise ; but as 
the vultures of the desert are said to ap- 
pear on the scene, no one knows from 
whence, whenever there is anything to be 
picked up, or even to be investigated, so 
the youngest Miss Langton seems to have 
got wind of their arrival, and drops unin- 
vited into Vega's room to see what is 
going on. 

She is by no means a counterpart of her 



A WANDERING STAR. I 3 I 

sister Pussie, although she is hardly more 
prepossessing ; but the dulness and apathy 
that distinguishes the one are replaced in the 
other by a sulky, defiant, and somewhat ill- 
tempered expression. Both are short, but 
Pussie is small, flat, and meagre, while 
Nature's original intention seems to have 
been to have made a fine woman of Miss 
Dottie. She has broad shoulders and fine 
arms, and is built on rather a large scale ; 
but her legs have not grown with her 
growth, and she has remained squat, and too 
broad for her height. Her head, though not 
small, is well-shaped ; and the dark hair, fine 
eyes, and beetle brows of her mother's 
family have been inherited by her, but in 
her case have lost all their effect by reason of 
the lowliness of her stature and the stumpi- 
ness of her figure. Her eyes can flash fire 
and fury on occasion, and her straight black 
brows give her a good deal of Lady Julia's 
expression ; but whereas the latter, to do 
her justice, even in her worst moods, looks 
like an indignant, or an insulted empress, 
her niece never rises to such a height, for 



K 2 



I32 A WANDERING STAR. 

she is cast in a coarser and more Jewish- 
looking- mould. 

All the same, Lady Julia shudders when 
she traces the likeness between herself and 
her niece, and if she feels a passive sort of 
dislike to Pussie, she has an active aversion 
to Dottie, which displays itself by doing her 
best to keep her out of sight, and out of the 
way. 

With all her faults, a certain amount of 
strength of mind and body must be conceded 
to Dottie, of which her elder sister is not 
possessed, and she neither looks indifferent 
nor stupid as she enters Vega's room and 
takes stock of her possessions. 

" Far too good-looking to suit Aunt Julia," 
she thinks to herself, as she stares at Vega, 
and looks her over from head to foot ; "she 
won't stay long here, that's certain, and she 
will spend most of her time in the school- 
room with us, while she remains ; " but she 
welcomes the new-comer not unkindly, and 
at least makes a slight effort, with the aid of 
the poker and a chink of open window, to 
help the smoke up the chimney. 



A WANDERING STAR. I 33 

" What is going to happen to her ? ' she 
asks her sister, ignoring Vega as if she was 
not present. " Is she to dine downstairs to- 
night, or to tea with us in the schoolroom ? ' 

11 She is to tea with us in the schoolroom," 
answers Pussie, indifferently, and with the 
air of one who is in utter subjection to the 
powers that be, of whom indeed she is the 
mouthpiece. 

"Well, does Jane know ? " demands Dottie ; 
11 I suppose that at least they will give us 
another Ggg, and an extra roll or two." They 
do not seem to mind the presence of a 
stranger, but discuss the commissariat to- 
gether in the most unrestrained manner. 
4< I suppose tea will be ready in half an hour," 
says Pussie, and she gets up, and without 
more ado walks out of Miss Fitzpatrick's 
bedroom. Dottie pauses to give Vega the 
route, for the schoolroom is a long way off. 
Vega, however, is quick, and Dottie's ex- 
planations are lucid, so it is not much- more 
than half an hour before she finds herself in 
the schoolroom, a shabbily-furnished but not 
uncomfortable room, in which a large fire burns 



134 A WANDERING STAR. 

behind the strong bars of a high nursery 
fender. Everything is old in the room, but, 
in spite of old carpet, old bookcases filled 
with old books, old chairs, and a disreputable 
old sofa, which is draped in the oldest and 
dirtiest of chintz, it has a certain air of old- 
fashioned snugness. In fact, whole genera- 
tions of young Darners have lived and 
learned lessons in it, and everything seems 
to bear a homely but rather venerable stamp 
in consequence. 

The two Misses Langtonhave not thought 
it necessary to wait for their guest, but are 
hard at work at tea. Pussie, who fills the 
post of honour behind an old copper tea-urn, 
is reading a tattered novel, which she has 
propped up with the sugar-basin, and she 
turns over a page, and takes a large mouth- 
ful of bread-and-butter, turn and turn about. 
Dottie is very busy with buttered toast, the 
fruits of her own industry, and the result of 
many journeys to and from the blazing fire. 

" What will you eat, Miss Fitzpatrick ? ' 
inquires Dottie, shoving a boiled egg in her 
direction. Pussie, with her eyes still fixed on 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 35 

her book, dribbles out some tea with neither 
care nor attention, and pushes it over to Vega. 
The two girls have been so entirely kept in 
the background, and so much neglected, 
that their manners would hardly pass muster 
in the servants' hall. Lady Julia is actually 
glad that such is the case, as it gives 
her an excuse, and a good one, not to 
bring them forward, or to let them mingle 
in the company of herself and her fellows. 
Their ways strike Vega Fitzpatrick as very 
singular. 

" I suppose you would much rather be 
dining downstairs," says Dottie, who has in- 
herited the vice — or virtue — of almost brutal 
frankness ; " but you see there are eighteen 
people at dinner to-night, and Aunt Julia 
very seldom lets us dine unless they are 
quite alone. I can't say I think it a great 
treat then : Aunt Julia is always cross, Uncle 
Regie never opens his mouth, and as for 
Mums, she finds fault with everything we 
say or do, and Aunt Julia joins in. But of 
course I like the food, and the ice-pudding, 
and all that. It's very different from our 



I36 A WANDERING STAR. 

teas up here ; we sometimes really don't get 
enough to eat, for no one has time to look 
after us, and everybody thinks us a nuisance. 
I don't believe, though, you'll ever dine 
downstairs at all. You are far too pretty to 
suit Aunt Julia." 

" Dottie, what nonsense you do talk ! " says 
Pussie, as she awakens to the realities of life 
and her sister's unfeeling plain speaking ; 
she has come to the end of the second volume 
of a cheap translation of one of Gaboriau's 
novels, and looks up at the speaker with 
dazed eyes. " You ought not to say such 
things before strangers.'' 

<4 Miss Fitzpatrick will find it all out fast 
enough for herself," says Dottie, defiantly. 
" Besides, she won't be a stranger long if she 
joins our mess, as Uncle Regie calls it, up 
here. You like Uncle Regie, don't you ? 
He is the only person in the house who is 
ever kind to us, or who ever says a nice word 
to us." 

" Like him! Like Colonel Darner!" an- 
swers Vega, eagerly, and her lovely face 
lights up with gratitude and affection ; " I 



A WANDERING STAR. I 37 

should rather think I did ! Oh ! what 
could I ever have done without him ? 
He has always been so very, very good to 
me." 

" You're right," says Dottie, with a plea- 
santer expression on her sulky face than it has 
yet worn ; " there's no doubt at all about his 
kindness. The only pity is that we never 
see him at all ; he is always hunting, or 
shooting, or driving into Grimthorpe to 
attend some meeting, or to do some business, 
or people come over here to talk to him, or 
he is writing letters, or playing billiards, or 
something or other. We sometimes don't 
set eyes on him for days at a time. But it 
can't be helped, I suppose ; and on Sunday 
afternoons he insists that we should go 
out with them all, and then he generally 
walks behind with us ; he takes us to the 
stables or the farm, or we do something 
amusing. He always brings us presents 
from London when he goes up, as he some- 
times does for the night, and we get a 
sovereign from him on birthdays and on 
Christmas day, and he never forgets us, 



I38 A WANDERING STAR. 

which is saying a good deal in this 
house." 

" Do you always live here ? ' asks 
Vega ; " and why are you obliged to stay 
in the schoolroom when there is no 
governess ? " 

" One question at a time, please," says 
Dottie, quite delighted to have an audience 
to whom to air her grievances ; " no, we 
don't always live here ; we have a house in 
London, but you see we are very, very hard- 
up, and it is the aim and object of Mums' 
life to let it, and then when she has found 
some one who will take it, she likes really to 
save, and to live on her relations. But not 
many of our relations will let us live on them ; 
they won't keep us for more than ten days or 
so at the outside, and, as Mums says that there 
is nothing so expensive as moving about, she 
gets Aunt Julia to let us stay on here for the 
two or three months that the house is off our 
hands. I suppose Aunt Julia must really be 
rather fond of Mums, for we are here like 
this nearly every winter. They are always 
fighting, but I expect they really suit each 



A WANDERING STAR. I 39 

other ; and then Uncle Regie is so rich, and 
Conholt is such a big house, that it doesn't 
matter to her. Aunt Julia wouldn't stand it 
for a day if she had to take Pussie and I 
about, or even if we were much downstairs. 
She hates girls — she always says so, but so 
long as we are kept up here, she doesn't 
bother her head about us. She and the 
Mums are both delighted to get rid of us. 
Now for your other question. No, we have 
got no governess. We haven't had one for 
years ; but this has always been called the 
schoolroom, and the schoolroom it will 
remain, I expect, to the end of the 
chapter. It suits Aunt Julia to be able to 
tell people that her ' little nieces ' are up in 
the schoolroom. It makes them think that 
we are much younger than we are. Oh ! 
there goes the gong ! They will be going 
in to dinner in a minute now. Come on ! 
come on ! " 

Acting on her own words, Dottie jumps 
up, and with her mouth still full of buttered 
toast, she tears out of the room ; Pussie 
follows her in equal haste, but in a more dig- 



I40 A WANDERING STAR. 

nified manner, and Vega, caught as it were 
in the tide, seems to have no option but to 
run also. 

They clatter downstairs, and find them- 
selves standing in the gallery that runs round 
the hall, from which they have a capital view 
of the procession of smartly-dressed people 
as they file in to dinner. 

Dottie bends right over the oaken railing, 
devouring them with her black eyes ; Pussie, 
more discreetly, keeps a little in the back- 
ground ; while Vega's golden head against 
the dark panels makes a lovely picture for no 
eye to see. 

" Look at them all ! ' whispers Dottie. 
" Here comes Uncle Regie first of all, looking 
so handsome in his red coat ; he always has 
that grand bored look when he takes some 
fat important old dowager in to dinner ; he 
seems as if he hadn't a word to sav for him- 

m 

self, but he makes up for it by looking nice ! 
I don't know who the next man is with Lady 
Winton ; that's Lady Winton, that very tall, 
fair, handsome woman in mauve. She 
doesn't look like a grandmother, does she ? 



A WANDERING STAR. 141 

She is one, all the same, but nobody seems to 
look like a grandmother now-a-days. Per- 
haps a great-grandmother may, but I don't 
know any. Now here come all the nice 
young men ; the nice ones always go near 
the end. Don't they look handsome, and all 
exactly alike as one looks down on them ? 
There's my mother in plain black silk. She 
says she lives in it because she's so very, 
very poor, but we know better. She wears 
it because she looks handsomer in it than 
anything else, better even than Bijou in all 
her finery. The Mums is going in with Mr. 
Vansittart. He's Aunt Julia's fancy man, 
you know ; but he is a nobody — I mean he 
has no rank at all of any kind, so, as she can't 
take him in herself, Aunt Julia gives him to 
Mums, and woe betide her if she doesn't put 
him next Aunt Julia! He is good-looking, 
isn't he, Miss Fitzpatrick ? but he's not my 
style at all ; the sort of looks I like are quite 
different to his. I like curly fair men with 
blue eyes, like Brian Beresford. Have you 
ever seen Brian Beresford, Miss Fitz- 
patrick ? " 



142 A WANDERING STAR. 

Vega gives a little gasp. Has she not 
already sought for his face in that procession 
— vainly sought for it — and is not her heart 
heavy as lead in consequence ? 

As the different men file across the hall, 
fair or dark, tall or short, she eagerly gazes 
down on each of them in succession, but her 
eyes are not gladdened by the sight of the 
man who has filled her thoughts, waking or 
sleeping, for the last six months. To hear 
his name spoken gives her a kind of shock, 
for it seems strange to her that he should be 
spoken about at all. 

" Did you ever meet him ? ' and Dottie 
Langton repeats her question, fixing, at 
the same time, her bold, black eyes full on 
Vega. 

She has heard her sigh, and she is one of 
those whom nothing escapes. But she can 
gather no information from Vela's manner. 
The girl is white indeed, but hardly paler than 
she was before, and she has been forced 
to rely on herself alone all her life, so 
her present questioner does not take her 
aback. 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 43 

" Yes," she answers, steadily, and even 
Dottie's sharp ears catch no tremor in her 
voice; "he was on board the yacht when I 
was there last autumn. Is he staying here 
now ? " 

" Staying here now ? ' and Dottie laughs 
as if the bare idea was an exquisite joke. 
" Why, my dear, he is at the other end of the 
world at this moment. He started last 
autumn for America, and Japan, and I don't 
know where else. Uncle Re^ie calls him a 
regular globe-trotter ; oh, dear ! how I 
wish he wasn't so far away," sighs Dottie, 
and she does not notice that Vega sighs 
also. " He is nice, if you like ! He's one 
of the people who thinks we're human beings, 
and who tries as much as he can to give us a 
little pleasure. He has been up to the 
schoolroom often and often, and never comes 
here without bringing us chocolates, or bon- 
bons, or something to amuse us. No 
wonder Aunt Julia is so much in love with 
Brian Beresford ! I'm in love with him also, 
and so would Pussie be, if she could be in 
love with anyone." 



144 A WANDERING STAR. 

" I think," says Pussie, primly, "it would 
be just as well if we went upstairs again. 
There's nothing more to be seen now, and it 
can't be very amusing to Miss Fitzpatrick to 
hear you talking nonsense ! " 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 45 



CHAPTER VII. 

u The weary day rins doon, and dees, 
The weary night wears through, 
And never an hour is fair wi' flower, 
And never a flower wi' dew." 

It is not unhappiness so much as utter 
stagnation that make these first days and 
weeks at Conholt Park seem almost unbear- 
able to Yega Fitzpatrick. She knows now 
for the first time what it is to taste "the 
weariness of life ! ' The child has had a sad 
time of it so far ; little love or affection has 
fallen to her lot, and little joy has brightened 
her existence. It would almost seem as if 
any change must be for the better, and that 
she at least would have no past to regret. 

Her father's society had given her no com- 
fort, his affection had been meted out to her 
in a grudging, indifferent kind of way ; his 

vol. 1. L 



146 A WANDERING STAR. 

death had caused her horror rather than 
grief, and in the poor pinched life they had 
led, there had been no mirth or happiness, 
or even comfort. There had been few- 
illusions possible about the out-at-elbows, all 
but squalid home to which the Bushe family 
had welcomed her with noisy hospitality, 
though it was not their fault that the boys 
and girls, not to mention their parents, were 
made of coarser clay than their guest, and 
that there could be no sympathy or real 
friendship between them. 

But for all that, the dire monotony of the 
life at Conholt is more crushing still to her 
spirit. There had been freedom, at any 
rate, in the life that had gone before. She 
could breathe the air of heaven, could 
wander in the leafy woods of Tibermont, 
and the great forest of Arques, could brave 
the sea-breezes on the edge of the chalky 
cliffs without let or hindrance. People came 
and went in the picturesque streets of the 
old Norman town ; music was played on the 
Casino Terrace ; there were the churches of 
St. Jacques and St. Remi to pray in. Here 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 47 

no freedom is allowed her ; prohibitions 
hedge her and her two companions in on 
every side ; forbidden fruit seems to hang 
on every bough. She sometimes wonders 
bitterly why they are permitted to be alive 
at all ! 

They may not wander alone among the 
woods ; they may not walk on the ter- 
races and in the gardens reserved for the 
owners of Conholt and their guests ; they 
may not join the merry parties who drive 
and ride and live a life of amusement and 
pleasure ; and they receive but a grudging 
and niggardly welcome when they appear 
in any of the public rooms downstairs. 
The schoolroom is their kingdom, and 
to the schoolroom they are practically 
banished. 

Vega has hitherto lived only with men 

and women, and is utterly unaccustomed to 

the ways of other girls. She finds Pussie 

Langton uninteresting and wearisome in the 

extreme ; and as for Dottie — her cynical 

sharpness, her bitterness, and the vulgarity 

of her manners annoy her terribly. 

l 2 



I48 A WANDERING STAR. 

The two sisters spar, snarl, and quarrel 
from morning to night. They agree on no 
possible subject, except when they make 
common cause to repine over the dulness 
of their lives, and to talk bitterly about the 
eagerness of their mother to suppress her 
daughters, and about the intense selfishness 
of their aunt. 

But they are no companions to the 
refined, charming girl who finds herself 
entirely thrown on them for society. They 
are so much engrossed also with their 
own concerns that they are utterly indif- 
ferent to hers ; and Dottie, though the 
feeling, as yet, smoulders in her breast, 
has it in her to be madly jealous of Vega 
Fitzpatrick. 

She is quick enough to see that were they 
ever matched against each other, she and 
Pussie might renounce at once and for ever 
all idea of rivalry to Vega ; that in her society 
nobody would ever look at them a second 
time ; and that, beside the tall, slim girl, she 
looks more stumpy, and her sister more flat 
and meagre than ever ; while Vega's lovely 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 49 

face puts her own completely in the shade, 
in spite of black flashing eyes and beetle 
brows. 

It is not Colonel Darner's fault that Vega 
runs a very good chance of being forgotten 
altogether ; but he is never at home at all. 
To be sure, he generally sleeps under his 
own roof-tree ; but the season is drawing to 
its end, and he hunts every day of the 
week ; or if by chance he misses a day, he is 
simply overwhelmed with business, and has 
no time to think about the girl he has so 
stoutly determined to befriend. 

He forgets her, and Lady Julia ignores 
her ; not so Lady Hermione ! She has 
looked at her, talked to her, stared at her ; 
and she knows that she cannot afford to be 
ignored. She knows that Vega Fitzpatrick 
has only to be seen, and that all men will go 
mad about her ! 

She is the last person in the world to 
undervalue the power of supreme good 
looks, for she has not been an acknowledged 
beauty ever since she was a dark-eyed girl 
in her father's house for nothing. 



1 50 A WANDERING STAR. 

She knows that, in the best of her beaux 
join's, she was never lovely as Vega is 
lovely ; and that now, let that " bright, 
particular star" but once appear on the 
horizon, and not only would those farthing 
rushlights, her own daughters, be utterly 
eclipsed, but her own handsome face and 
still graceful figure would be completely put 
in the shade ; while, as for her sister, 
though men would still worship at her 
shrine, even her magnificent beauty would 
pale before the angel-face of the young 
girl. 

" I can't imagine what you were thinking 
of, Julia," says Lady Hermione Langton to 
her sister, about ten days after Vega s arrival 
at Conholt Park, " when you so weakly gave 
in to Reginald about that Fitzpatrick girl. 
It's not like you" (she is right there !), " and 
I don't understand what you meant by it. 
In the first place, What have you got to do 
with her at all ? She's nothing to you — or 
to Reginald either, for that matter ; for, if 
people began to think it necessary to adopt 
all their hundredth cousins, I don't know 



A WANDERING STAR. I S I 



where it would end. There would have to 
be community of goods in the long run, and 
communistic principles, and free love, and all 
the rest of it ! Of course, it resolves itself 
into the old story — a man's admiration for a 
pretty face ! If Vega Fitzpatrick had been 
a plain girl, do you think for a moment that 
Reginald would have torn over to Dieppe 
to look after her ? Do you think that 
she would have been sitting at Conholt Park 
at this moment ? But, mind you, Julia, I 
give you this word of warning : hers is no 
ordinary beauty ; she has not merely a 
pretty face — I don't believe you could find a 
much lovelier one anywhere. You ought to 
look matters steadily in the face. A stray 
girl is always a horrible bore. It is bad 
enough to have children of one's own : they 
are a never-ending worry and bother and 
disappointment. But willingly to put one's 
head in a noose — to adopt a girl who has the 
additional drawback of such good looks-that 
every man who sets eyes on her will fall in 
love with her — is quite beyond me." 

" How you run on, Hermione ! ' says Lady 



J 52 A WANDERING STAR. 

Julia, fretfully. " Who ever talked about 
adoption ? That's quite a word and an idea 
of your own. I have no more idea of 
adopting Vega Fitzpatrick than I have of 
adopting Pussie or Dottie ; and that's say- 
ing a good deal." 

The two sisters are sitting in Lady Julia's 
boudoir — a wonderful room, whose amber 
panels and tawny draperies are well fitted to 
set off the handsome brunette beauty of its 
owner. Conholt is nearly deserted this 
morning, for Colonel Darner and most of the 
guests have gone out hunting ; but the meet 
is a long way off, and Lady Julia is lazy, so 
she stays at home, and lets Lady Hermione 
give her advice. 

" Oh, you may laugh as much as you 
like," says the latter ; "but you will be the 
last person in the world to laugh when she 
has set the whole house by the ears, and 
perhaps interfered with some flirtation of 
your own. Believe me, her arrival here has 
been a great mistake. It is worse than a 
crime ; it's a blunder ! " 

" You let your imagination run away with 



A WANDERING STAR. 153 

you, Hermione, and your tongue too," in- 
terrupts Lady Julia. " I thought Reginald 
was a fool for bringing her over here to 
us, and I told him so. We don't want stray 
girls to take root for an indefinite time ; but, 
all the same, you may keep your mind at 
ease : she won't be here long. She will 
stay with us for a few weeks, I expect, and 
then she must return whence she came. 
Even Reginald himself couldn't expect me 
to take out a girl who hasn't the faintest 
claim on me, and who, into the bargain, I 
positively dislike." 

" No, Julia ; I can't imagine you looking 
after any girl. You are not the stuff of 
which chaperones are made." 

Lady Julia reads between the lines, and 
draws the exact inference that her sister 
intends to convey. She knows that she is 
selfish, but she does not like Lady Her- 
mione to hint it so very plainly. 

"Well, I may return the compliment, 
Hermione," she says angrily, ' { and go still 
further ! You're not quite the stuff of which 
model mothers are made. I don't think 



154 A WANDERING STAR. 

Pussie and Dottie have had a particularly 
good time of it so far. How you used to 
knock them about when they were small ! 
You cowed Pussie thoroughly ; she always 
was a poor thing ! a regular Langton, and 
she's no good at all now. As for Dottie, 
she's as sulky as a bear, and so ill- 
conditioned and violent tempered ; but I 
expect she wouldn't have been quite so bad 
if you had treated her more kindly. There 
was a time when you rather took her up, 
when she was quite a little thing, and her 
face seemed nothing but black eyes and 
straight eyebrows. She really looked as if 
she might turn out something like us! She 
was too short and too fat even then, but that 
was rather a point in her favour than other- 
wise, for you could delude people into think- 
ing she was two or three years younger than 
she was ! In those days you dressed her 
smartly, and curled her black hair, and took 
her about with you everywhere. People 
used to call her the best chaperone in 
London ! But that phase didn't last long ; 
she got too old for that sort of thing, and 



A WANDERING STAR. I 



00 



lost the certain amount of good looks that 
she possessed as a child. She got stumpy 
and coarse-looking, and since then you have 
not troubled yourself much about either her 
or poor Pussie." 

"You are plain-spoken, Julia, as you 
always are ! ' says Lady Hermione, bit- 
terly ; "but I don't see in what way abuse 
of Pussie and Dottie has to do with the 
question in point. They are not in your 
way, poor things ! and never will be, 
whereas this Miss Vega is a very different 
thing." 

" Long before she has a chance of being in 
my way she will have departed from here, 
you may rest assured of that. She is no 
favourite of mine ! We took her with us 
when we went that cruise in the Gitana 
last autumn that I told you about, but I 
neither cared for her nor her ways. She 
struck me as being rather bold and forward, 
and Cissy Grahame entirely agreed with 



me. 



Lady Hermione feels she has sufficiently 
annoyed her sister and hostess, so refrains 



I56 A WANDERING STAR. 

from giving vent to the thought that is 
uppermost in her mind, which is that she 
cannot imagine Cissy Grahame disagreeing 
on any mortal subject with the powers that 
be. She knows that that far-seeing little 
lady realizes thoroughly that she owes 
her success in life to being able to turn 
her coat at a moment's notice to suit the 
views of any one in authority, and also to 
the prudence with which she bridles her 
tongue. 

" No ! I suppose Cissy Grahame didn't 
particularly care for Miss Fitzpatrick," 
answers Lady Hermione ; " she never said 
so in as many words, and it is very hard 
to find out anything about Cissy's likes or 
dislikes ; but even Cissy now and then shows 
her feeling by her manner, and I saw plainly 
enough that Miss Fitzpatrick was no 
favourite of hers. I expect she cut her 
out in some way, for I suppose there were 
some men or other on board. Oh ! by the 
way, didn't you have Brian Beresford with 
you r 

The Japanese fan in Lady Julia's hand 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 57 

shakes ever so slightly, but the tremor is not 
lost on her sister, and there is just a percep- 
tible pause before Lady Julia answers in an 
off-hand manner, " Brian Beresford ! Oh ! 
yes, he was there ; he was with us nearly the 
whole autumn." 
1 " And Miss Vega ? " asks Lady Hermione. 

" Did she try to take her away from ? 

Did he admire her very much ? I never saw 
a man yet who didn't like change, and I 
expect Brian isn't more constant than his 
neighbours ! I suppose he fell in love with 
her ? " 

Lady Julia makes no answer; she leaves 
her luxurious corner by the fire with the air 
of one who is very much bored, and walks 
across the room to one of the long windows 
that look out on the park. She stands there 
apparently idly looking out, but she forgets 
that a mirror that hangs on one side enables 
her sister to see an angry flash in her 
dark eyes, and a heightened colour in -her 
cheek. 

Thus she stands, looking out on the leaf- 
less trees, the pinched shrubs, and the grey 



I58 A WANDERING STAR. 

grass. The country is looking its very 
worst, and the cold, hard light of a March 
sun dispels any illusion of beauty that might 
be imagined to belong to the scene ; the 
brown, bare branches look like withered 
sticks ; the evergreens belie their name, and 
have the appearance of foliage cut out of 
metal, and there is not even a touch of 
tender green on the turf of the park. In 
more genial seasons, and under a less fierce 
light, there is something that pleases the eye 
in the wide extent of park, flat though it be ; 
but to-day it looks only a barren, uninterest- 
ing waste. 

Lady Julia shivers as she looks out ; the 
beauty of any country scene would always be 
thrown away on her if devoid of human 
interest in the form of the male element ; 
still, she continues standing there, for her 
sister's words rankle in her mind, and she 
does not wish to face her till she is once more 
herself. At last the monotony of the landscape 
is broken by three figures, and Lady Julia is 
glad of it, for they divert her attention, and 
give her something to look at, criticize, and 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 59 

condemn. It is Vega Fitzpatrick and the 
two Langtons who are crossing the park in 
the direction of the house. Vega is the 
centre figure, and Pussie and Dottie are 
talking across her, apparently in no friendly 
spirit. The sisters are dressed exactly alike, 
in a uniform of Lady Hermiones own con- 
triving, which it would certainly take greater 
good looks than her daughters possess to 
stand successfully. Their plain grey duffle 
frocks are short, which is a mistake, as both 
boots and feet are not much to boast of, and 
jackets and hats are of the same unbecoming 
dingy drab as the rest of their attire. 

Pussie looks poor, and thin, and mes- 
qtiine, and seems chilly, in spite of the 
pace at which they are getting over the 
ground ; while Dottie has a cut-short and 
stumpy appearance, and has, moreover, a bad 
carriage. 

No wonder Vega shines in such company ! 
Her clothes are plain enough also, and -the 
sombre black is unrelieved by the faintest 
touch of white. It must be owned, however, 
that not only does she wear them " with a 



l6o A WANDERING STAR. 

difference," but that a French hand, though 
but a provincial one, has hung those folds, 
and followed with the eye of an uncon- 
scious artist every line of the slender, lovely 
figure. 

Her step is elastic, she is full of life and 
youth, and the harsh east wind has no power 
to blight or wither her. It only brings some 
colour into her small face, and a brighter 
light to her eye. The joy of living is strong 
in her, in spite of all her troubles, and is 
quenched neither by the bitter blast, by the 
death of all that is beautiful in nature, nor 
by the depressing or irritating society of 
her two companions. She swings along, 
taller by a head at least than either of them, 
and looking like a being of another race. 

The sisters talk, and wrangle, and quarrel, 
but she takes no part in their dissensions ; it 
is to her as if they were silent, for she hears 
nothing of their words, sees nothing of her 
dull surroundings, knows nothing for the 
moment, except that she once upon a time 
was happy — once had sailed over enchanted 
seas in the good yacht Git ana — once had 



A WANDERING STAR. I 6 I 

loved, and oh ! had she been loved again — 
by Brian Beresford ? 

The remembrance of her good days brings 
a tender light into her eyes, and a shadowy 
beauty flits across her face. Vega is now 
near enough the window at which Lady 
Julia stands for her keen eye to note every- 
thing. She is a woman who is brutally 
frank, even to herself, and she does not 
attempt to undervalue the wonderful attrac- 
tion that this girl possesses. 

She may hate her for it, but she is not 
petty or foolish enough to deny or ignore it. 

She wheels round as soon as Vega passes 
out of sight. 

" You are right, Hermione — right, for 
once," she says. :< The Colonel had no busi- 
ness to bring that girl over here at all. It 
isn't likely that I am going to trouble myself 
about her, and he ought to have known that 
for himself. If I were some years older, 
and were plagued with grown-up daughters 
of my own' (Lady Hermione feels the stab, 
but does not wince), " it might be another 
thing altogether ; but as matters now stand, 

VOL. I. M 



1 62 A WANDERING STAR. 

it would be too ridiculous to expect me to 
take up a strange girl that I know nothing 
about — a girl who hasn't the faintest claim 
on us, and who comes of a very queer stock 
too ; the daughter of a broken-down gambler, 
who was hunted out of society — outlawed 
from England, for all I know. It isn't 
likely / should be mixed up with such 
people ! I shall speak to Reginald very 
plainly on the subject, and tell him she can't 
take root here." 

Lady Hermione rejoices exceedingly. 
She has gained her point. If her sister 
could ever be persuaded to do a good turn 
to any one, there would be more chance of 
her benefits falling to the lot of Pussie and 
Dottie if Vega were safely out of the way, 
and not on the spot for Colonel Darner to 
urge her claims. She has also another 
reason for wishing Vega's speedy departure. 
There is always a possibility that the stream 
of money and its equivalents, which flows 
steadily, if sluggishly, in her direction from 
the Darner coffers, might be diverted from 
what she has grown to consider its legiti- 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 63 

mate course, in the direction of the friendless 
girl. 

Lady Hermione is poor, needy, and 
grasping. There are many comforts and 
luxuries which she feels she Must have, and 
which the pittance she possesses does not 
permit her to attain to. Luckily for her 
schemes and requirements, the Darners 
are very rich. Colonel Darner is gene- 
rous and kind-hearted to a fault, and if 
her best friend cannot credit Lady Julia 
with those virtues, she has at least a 
clannish sort of feeling towards her own 
family, which disposes her to grudge 
things less to them than to the rest of the 
world. 

Fortunately for Lady Hermione, in spite 
of many rubs and jars, there has always 
been a sort of sympathy between herself and 
her sister. They have had many feelings 
in common and many hatreds. 

Lady Hermione had stood by Lady Julia 
once or twice when her sisters fair name 
had been lightly spoken of, and she had 
helped her out of two or three scrapes and 

m 2 



164 A WANDERING STAR. 

an escapade or two, all of which it was 
absolutely necessary that Mrs. Grundy 
should know nothing about. 

Not the least of her merits in Lady Julia's 
eyes now, is the fact that, while Lady Her- 
mione is tall, handsome, dark-eyed, and 
splendid-looking, like herself, her seniority 
by three or four years, and the constant 
worry that a life of poverty entails on its 
victims, have told on her looks. 

She is worn, and just a little haggard, 
and Lady Julia, in the pride of her full- 
blown beauty, is constantly reminded of 
her own superiority. 

All these considerations tell in favour of 
Lady Hermione, who, on her side, means to 
defend her position, and keep what she has 
attained to. 

She does not think it wise to continue 
any further the discussion about Vega ; 
Lady Julia has practically given in to her, 
but would not be likely to stand more ad- 
vice on the subject ; so the conversation 
takes a pleasanter turn, the spoilt beauty 
recovering her serenity as her sister talks 



A WANDERING STAR. 165 

to her about the devotion of her latest victim 
— Bertie Vansittart — and her assurance that 
when Brian Beresford returns once more to 
his native land, Lady Julia will not find it 
hard to whistle back the wanderer. 



1 66 A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER VIII. 

A manly step on the uncarpeted corridor 
that leads to the schoolroom, and a friendly 
knock on the strong panel of the door. 

The occupants looked up surprised and 
curious, for visitors are few and far between, 
and a man's step and the jingle of a spur 
are seldom heard in that out-of-the way part 
of the house. 

Pussie Langton is sitting as close to the 
fire as the strongly-barred nursery fender will 
permit, stitching, or rather cobbling, in a 
spiritless sort of way at some of her old 
clothes. Her apathetic little face bends 
over her work, and her yawns have alone 
broken the silence of the room for the last 
ten minutes. Vega has neither looked up 
nor responded ; she is mounted on the arm 
of the high old-fashioned sofa, for the gas- 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 67 

burner is placed awkwardly high, and the 
print of the Shelley that she holds in her 
hand is unpleasantly small ; but she sits on 
her perch, and neither flaring gas nor small 
print have power to annoy her. She has 
followed the poet to his own world, and he 
has caught her up to the seventh heaven. 

The footsteps outside and the knock at 
the door make her look up ; but her eyes 
are dazed and full of poetry, and it is Pussie 
who is on the alert, and who says, "Come 
in ! " as the knock is repeated for the second 
time. 

And in comes Colonel Darner. Colonel 
Darner is in his red coat and muddy boots, 
looking gay, good-natured, and jovial, as it is 
natural for a man to look who has had a long, 
happy day in the open air, whose approving 
conscience tells him that, without vanity, he 
may lay claim to having gone brilliantly 
over a big country, and who now has the 
kindly thought of coming up here to fook 
after a little girl, of whom he is very fond, but 
whom he never sees by any chance. He is 
sure of his welcome here at any rate, and 



1 68 A WANDERING STAR. 

looks beaming as he enters the door. Vega 
and Pussie are both taken aback for a 
moment, for a visitor to their quarters is 
rare indeed ; but it is Shelley who suffers 
most, for the book is tossed on one side, and 
indeed breaks its back in the violence of its 
fall to the floor, while Vega, springing from 
her lofty position, dashes across the room, 
and half flings herself into Colonel Darner's 
arms. She is so delighted — so overjoyed to 
see him, and the golden head is on his 
shoulder, and the sweet lips are kissing the 
sleeve of his scarlet coat while he still stands 
at the door. Her delight pleases him be- 
yond measure, and he makes much of her, 
pets her, and stroking her pretty hair as if 
she really were the child of his own that he 
had always longed for. 

Side by side they sit on the sofa, with his 
arm round her shoulder, and both her hands 
holding his strong brown one, as if she were 
afraid he would escape her. She feels as if 
she could not be grateful enough to him 
for coming to see her, and her lovely dewy 
eyes express what she means far better than 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 69 

any words. Her affection seems to warm 
his heart. He is so little accustomed to be 
made much of, and he suffers so much at the 
hands of his wife, that he welcomes the 
blessed change. Pussie has come over for- 
mally to shake hands with him. She is 
pleased also to see her uncle, but she has 
not the power of showing it, and she soon 
retires into her shell again and cobbles on, 
though she pays less attention than ever to 
the business on hand. 

" Well, my darling, you seem blooming," 
says the Colonel, looking at her with atten- 
tion and interest. He scans her small face 
with a critical eye, and is pleased to note 
that it is not quite so white and thin, and 
that her whole expression is less sad than 
when he found her at Dieppe. 

" Conholt seems to agree with you, my 
child, I am happy to see, though you don't 
look exactly robust yet. You must go on 
improving, and then I shall be quite pleased. 
Are you tolerably happy here ? I hope 
Pussie and Dottie are very good to you." 

4< Indeed they are, Colonel Darner, " 



1 70 A WANDERING STAR. 

answers Vega heartily. Were they exactly 
the contrary, she would not find it in her 
heart to annoy Colonel Darner by saying so, 
nor would she like to give him the slightest 
hint of the many dull hours and the poor 
time in general they have in that room. 
She knows how much the Colonel has to 
stand from Lady Julia, and she would not 
have the heart to add to his burden. " We 
are all right up here," she goes on, " a little 
dull sometimes, and tired of our own com- 
pany, but if you would only come and see 
us now and then we would be all right. 
I know how busy you always are, but do 
try and fit us in now and then. It makes 
such a difference to us when some one nice 
comes up here to us." 

" All right, Vega," says the Colonel, "you 
shall be fitted in somehow. Of course, you 
understand why Lady Julia thinks it best 
that you should be kept rather in the back- 
ground just now. She thinks, as you are 
in such deep mourning, and as Pussie and 
Dottie, although they are as old as you are, 
are not out yet, that you had better, all three 



A WANDERING STAR. I *]\ 

of you, be up here together, and then you 
can amuse each other. But I expect you 
bore each other now and then, and that her 
Ladyship is wrong in overdoing the thing 
quite so much. Perhaps it's just as well for 
you not to appear just yet, when there are a 
lot of people in the house ; but surely, when 
there are only two or three, as there so often 
are, it might be done. Hullo ! Dottie, you 
little wretch ! what are you up to now ? ! 
Dottie has now arrived upon the scene, and 
her black eyes are full of surprise, mingled 
with admiration, as she gazes on her uncle. 
She would dearly like to make some demon- 
stration of joy over his unexpected appear- 
ance, for Colonel Darner is one of the few 
people who has ever got at her hard little 
heart, and she has adored him from the 
earliest days of her neglected childhood, but 
her hands, if not literally tied, are very full ; 
the youngest Miss Langton is armed with 
a saucepan, and carries a tray, on which 
butter, treacle, coarse sugar, and wooden 
spoons are heaped pell-mell. They are the 
result of a raid into the kitchen department, 



172 A WANDERING STAR. 

and she means to beguile a dull evening by 
toffee-making. As she catches sight of her 
uncle, down goes the tray, the saucepan is 
thumped on the tea-table, and Dottie ap- 
proaches her uncle, full of affection, and is 
allowed to kiss him, and be talked to, and 
receive kind looks in return. 

" I expect you're the larky one of the 
three, Dottie," he says, smiling, as she now 
proceeds to arrange her stock-in-trade on 
the tray. " I'll be bound you often have 
some game or other on hand, and are up to 
all sorts of mischief ; while poor Pussie here 
is stitching away for dear life, you have 
nothing to do but amuse yourself! What 
are you about, Pussie, my dear ?" says the 
kind-hearted Colonel, coming over to the 
fireplace where poor Penelope is sitting, 
" what is your work ? " 

" Only mending, Uncle Regie, mending 
an old jacket," and a sleeve is held up, on 
whose elbow a patch is being placed. 

" Not a very interesting work, I should 
think, my dear. I expect the toffee-maker 
has the best of it ; but surely you are taking 



A WANDERING STAR. I 73 

a great deal of trouble for nothing. That 
jacket seems to be on its last legs. Look 
here, Pussie ! give it away, or get it properly 
sorted up by some one else, and here's a 
sovereign to help you to another. I suppose 
you too, Dottie, you little baggage, you will 
want one also. Well ! here you are ! Now 
# don't go and spend it all on sugar-plums." 

Dottie leaps up to his neck in her grati- 
tude, like a young puppy who tries how high 
he can jump to reach his master's hands or 
face ! Pussie, more self-contained and colder, 
puts down her needle and thread, and, with 
more heart and less formality than usual in 
her manner, thanks him as sincerely, if not 
as effusively, as Dottie. Colonel Darner looks 
at Vega for one undecided moment ; but he 
does not feel as if he would like to hand her 
a sovereign as a tip, and she is thankful he 
does not. 

" Now, Vega," he says, '• we must think 
about what can be done to cheer you up a 
little. Let me see, let me see, there's no one 
in particular staying in the house just now. 
The Drummonds go to-morrow, and there 



174 A WANDERING STAR. 

will be only young Vansittart left. Oh ! and 
Mossop comes over for a few days. I forgot 
Mossop, but he's nobody at all. Well ! I 
shall tell her Ladyship that you are all three 
going to dine downstairs to-morrow night. 
It won't be very lively for you, but it's better 
than eternally sticking up here. I shall make 
it all right with her." 

" But, Uncle Regie," begins Dottie, " I 
am going to dine to-morrow night any- 
how. Mums told me so to-day. She said 
that she had settled about it with Aunt 
Julia." 

" Oh ! and you meant to shine alone, 
Dottie, did you ? " says her Uncle. " Well ! 
they won't be in your way if I ask for Pussie 
and Vega also. There is no one at all to 
captivate, so you need not be afraid of any 
competition. Vansittart is not available," 
adds the Colonel, with a queer look in his 
eyes, as if he has some private joke of his 
own which he does not mean to divulge, " so 
there's no one left but Mossop ! He isn't 
very fascinating, and I don't expect you will 
quarrel about him. But you may all have a 



A WANDERING STAR. I 75 

try, and you must all of you be down. Now 
good-bye, good-bye, I have to be off. I 
have any amount of things to do before 
dinner. Good-bye, children." And the kind, 
good-hearted Colonel clanks out of the 
room, followed by Vega's sweet looks and 
Dottie's adoring glances, and even Pussie's 
dull eyes look after him with a good deal 
of affection. 

" I must say, Reginald," says Lady Julia 
to him, when her husband tells her of the 
guests he has bidden to the morrow's dinner, 
" I really must say I wish you wouldn't 
interfere with what doesn't concern you. 
Surely Hermione can manage her girls with- 
out your help ; and if I had wanted Miss 
Fitzpatrick to dine downstairs, I was capable 
of asking her myself. But it is always the 
way. A man can never read 'au dessous des 
cartes,' and thinks everything is plain sailing. 
As a matter of fact you have upset all Her- 
mione's plans, and she will be furious when 
she hears about it." 

" Furious ! my dear Julia, what on earth 
are you talking about ? What consequence 



I 76 A WANDERING STAR. 

can it be to Hermione, or any one else, if one 
<rirl or three come down to dinner ? We're 
very nearly alone, or I wouldn't have dared 
to ask the poor things. At the same time I 
must tell you that I consider it a positive 
shame to keep them mewed up there 
always. They are like prisoners of State, 
and I can't see what possible harm I have 
done by " 

" I will tell you the harm you have done," 
says Lady Julia, interrupting him rudely : 
" Hermione had a particular reason for wish- 
ing Dottie to dine downstairs without the 
others." 

" I am very sorry to have to put a spoke 
in her wheel then," returns the Colonel, 
"but what particular reason can she posi- 
tively have ? Why ! we are practically 
alone. Bertie Vansittart will, I suppose, 
be here, but he's your especial property, 
and Mossop may turn up, but he's of no 
account." 

" There's where you and Hermione differ," 
says Lady Julia ; " she thinks he is of great 
account, and ever since the time he stayed 



A WANDERING STAR. I 77 

here in the beginning of winter, she has 
looked on him as a possible son-in-law ! She 
declares that he paid Dottie a good deal of 
attention. I couldn't see it for my own 
part ; however, he certainly talked to her 
a little, and played ' Halma' with her in the 
evenings, and sent her a large box of cho- 
colate when he went away. I expect, though, 
that ' the wish is father to the thought/ 
in Hermione J s case ; all the same, on the 
strength of these attentions, she has made 
me ask him back, and there is no doubt 
Dottie would have a better chance of capti- 
vating him if she was seen alone and did 
not make one of a crowd." 

" Well ! of all the insane ideas, this is the 
most absurd," returns the Colonel contemp- 
tuously. " The idea of Dottie. a mere child, 
marrying at all, or rather being married to 
that stupid, awkward chap, old enough to be 
her father, a man who has risen from the 
ranks, and who doesn't know who his own 
grandfather was ! " 

" Pardon me, Reginald," says Lady Julia ; 
"we know everything about his grandfather. 

vol. 1. N 



I78 A WANDERING STAR. 

His grandfather was a potboy in early life, 
who made a large fortune in beer, and left 
his sons and daughters rolling in riches. 
Their sons and daughters, again, though not 
exactly millionaires, are better off than half 
the people in Blankshire. Beer money is as 
good as any other money, and the happy 
possessors of it are a power in the land. If 
our friend here, Mr. Mossop, had been an only 
child, instead of one of eight, he would have 
been made a peer by this time. It's merely 
a question of having a large enough fortune 
to be qualified to enter the ranks of the 
* noblesse de finance.' His brothers and sisters 
have stood in his way as far as that is con- 
cerned, but even his eighth share of the beer 
money is quite enough to make him a 'parti' ; 
and though I don't believe it will ever come off, 
Dottie would be fortunate beyond her deserts 
to marry a man with a clear eight thousand 
pounds a year, free from all drawbacks in the 
shape of annuitants, or hangers-on (people 
who have risen from the ranks never seem 
burdened in that way), and who has bought 
one of the nicest places in the county." 



A WANDERING STAR. I 79 

" And, from your point of view, the owner 
of all this need never be taken into con- 
sideration at all ! Upon my word ! women 
are twice as heartless as men. I can't 
imagine anything more melancholy than that 
a girl of seventeen should be sold to a man 
who is nearer fifty than forty, who is good- 
natured enough, if you like, but who is 
common, dull, and the most awkward lout I 
ever set eyes on." 

" Keep your mind at ease, Reginald," says 
her ladyship, mockingly ; " Dottie will never 
have the luck to have such a chance, or I'm 
much mistaken. But if you think the alter- 
native — a life of shabby-genteel poverty, of 
constant humiliations, and disappointments ; 
hanging on to rich people who don't care 
twopence for their poor relations ; with 
Hermione for ever saving, and scraping, and 
finding fault, — if you think all this would be 
pleasanter for her, or for any one else, than 
life with plenty of money, a pretty home, and 
a harmless kind of husband, well ! all I can 
say is, I don't agree with you." 

"Which is not very wonderful, Julia," 

N 2 



l8o A WANDERING STAR. 

returns her husband. " We never agree on 
any earthly subject, so it's not curious that 
we should fall out now." And he leaves 
Lady Julia to her own reflections, which are 
the reverse of complimentary to himself, and 
departs to dress for dinner. 



A WANDERING STAR. l8l 



CHAPTER IX. 

" Let me go over your good gifts 
That crown you queen, 
A queen whose empire ebbs and shifts 
Each week, Faustine ! " 

" Since when has flaming yellow been 
considered deep mourning, Miss Fitzpatrick? 
It may be correct in China, or in Japan too, 
for all I know to the contrary ; but I was not 
aware it had become the fashion in this 
country." 

Lady Julia speaks in a tone of con- 
tempt, as she surveys the opposite camp 
from her coign of 'vantage in the long 
gallery. 

It is a few minutes before the hour of the 
dinner, over which Colonel Darner and his 
wife have had words ; but he has carried his 
point, and his invited guests are sitting side 



I 82 A WANDERING STAR. 

by side, nearly opposite the sofa on which 
his imperious wife lounges. 

No queen, clad in purple and fine linen, 
could look more regal than does Lady Julia 
to-night ; indeed, queens in real life, and in 
the nineteenth century, have a way of not 
looking the character so thoroughly, and 
some of them have as simple an air as many 
of their subjects. 

Lady Julia is more like the queen in a 
story-book, or an old-fashioned romance. 
Perhaps she owes her imperial looks to her 
commanding height and magnificent pro- 
portions, or it may be that the haughty 
expression of those dark eyes, and the toss 
of that beautiful head, realizes the popular 
idea of what a queen should be. 

The shimmer of satin — the grand folds that 
fall in such perfect lines and sweep from the 
platform on which the couch is placed, down 
to the floor ; the gleam of jewels on the 
bodice where no drapery hides, or no folds 
of lace mar, the perfect lines of the splendid 
figure ; the string of glittering stones clasped 
round the firm white throat ; the stars of 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 83 

light that gleam in the piled masses of hair, 
" heavily bound up " ; all these add to her 
imposing appearance, while they seem merely 
an appropriate setting for a wonderful picture. 
Can such a woman, gifted with such 
supreme good looks, be capable of envy ? 
Can she grudge to another a face which 
could never clash with, or enter into com- 
petition with her own ? Must she possess 
everything, or, failing such a possibility, must 
she be devoured with jealousy ? On one 
side is a great lady, in the full zenith of her 
beauty, a beauty armed at all points, and 
possessed of everything that can possibly 
enhance her charms. On the other hand is 
a young girl, who can never in her wildest 
dreams be her rival. No imperial bearing is 
hers, no queenly air — 

11 By the dawn, and the dewfall anointed, 
She is queen by the gold on her head." 

That much, and no more, can she claim, for 
her kingdom is not of Lady Julia's world. 

On her slight, slim body are no royal 
robes, and the glory of colour is also want- 



184 A WANDERING STAR. 

ing. Through the plain black frock that 
mounts up to the slender throat, there is just 
a glimmer of white shoulders and arms to 
break the severity of her mourning robes. 
And stay ! there is yet another point of colour 
in the posy of daffodils and the few ivy leaves 
that the girl has arranged with the deft grace 
that she has learned in the country of her 
adoption, and that she has fastened in the 
front of her dress. 

Who could think that a few yellow flowers 
and some poor leaves would look so pretty ? 
but they seem the one thing needed to break 
the sombreness of the funereal black, and to 
give a finishing touch to Vega's simple 
gown. 

Lady Julia's quick eye marks and notes 
their effect. She then and there resolves 
that her new drawing-room dress shall be 
trimmed with bunches of daffodils and 
wreaths of ivy ! But gratitude for the idea 
does not make her stay her hand. She is 
even angry that the thought of that pretty 
combination should have first entered Vega's 
head, though she grudgingly acknowledges 



A WANDERING STAR. 185 

to herself that the simplicity of her dress 
seems to make the girl look all the fairer. 

Beside anything so sweet and young, she 
half believes that she must appear battered, 
artificial, over-blown. She, too, would like 
to be able to look half divine in a plain, black 
frock, with a bunch of daffodils for sole 
adornment. 

Lady Julia grudges the girl her youth, her 
innocence, her golden hair, her childish 
contour of figure, and her sweet expression 
of face. She even grudges her the bunch of 
daffodils ; but here at least she can score, and 
score she will ! 

If she hurts Vega's feelings, and cruelly 
reminds her at an inopportune moment of 
her father's death — vcz victis, that is all ! 

The blood rushes to her victim's face, as 
the finger of scorn is pointed to her flowers, 
and she looks round helplessly for sympathy, 
but finds none. 

Pussie and Dottie, formal and uncomfort- 
able-looking, are seated stiffly side by side 
on a huge divan in which they seem lost, 
and they would not dare by word or look 



1 86 A WANDERING STAR. 

to rebel against the powers that be. Aunt 
Julia seems to have the power of life and 
limb over them all, and no consideration on 
earth would tempt Pussie to defy her. Dottie 
is made of sterner stuff, and would be capable 
of attempting, at any rate, to hold her own 
against her aunt ; but she, too, has noticed 
how pretty the nodding heads of the daffodils 
look on Vega's black frock, and has wished 
them away. 

As for Lady Hermione, her face is set 
like a flint ; she is glad of anything that 
embroils Vega with her sister, and though 
she is wise enough to know that with the 
flowers or without them Vega will still be 
supremely lovely, she grudges her anything 
that adds to her beauty, be it in ever so small 
a degree. 

Colonel Darner has not yet come down- 
stairs, so poor Vega has no friends ; for she 
does not even give a thought to a dull, 
heavy-looking man who is standing with his 
back to the huge fire. 

" I didn't know, Lady Julia — I didn't 
think," stammers Vega. " I picked the 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 87 

daffodils this afternoon in the wood at the 
end of the Deer Park. I forgot that I 
ought not to wear them." 

Her trembling fingers unpin the " bonny 
breast-knot," and she crosses the room and 
flings it into the fireplace. It falls on the 
broad hearthstone, from which the stupid- 
lookinQ: man, who is no other than Mr. 
Mossop, picks it up with the tongs, and 
solemnly, as if he were about to offer up a 
burnt sacrifice, places it right in the heart of 
the flames. 

Perhaps Lady Julia had forgotten his 
presence when she rebuked Vega for wear- 
ing the flowers ; he is a man who is 
accustomed to be overlooked, and it is 
hard to gather from his manner whether he 
notices more than he is imagined to see, 
or not. 

But Lady Julia is always pretty cavalier 
in the treatment of her guests, when they 
happen to be neither interesting, amus- 
ing, highly placed, nor her own particular 
friends. 

They come to Conholt — * Heaven only 



1 88 A WANDERING STAR. 

knows how or why they come," — by Colonel 
Darner's invitation, probably — and she does 
not feel it " necessary " to put herself out for 
them in the slightest degree. They must look 
out for themselves, or Reginald is bound to 
dance attendance on them. No one could 
expect her to bother her head about 
them. 

She has shaken hands with Mr. Mossop 
when he came into the room, spoken two 
sentences to him on the subject of the 
weather, and thinks she has played the 
hostess sufficiently. 

No doubt he has been properly looked 
after, and been given a nice enough room in 
the bachelors' wing ; the housekeeper would 
see that his fire was good, and that there 
was writing paper and envelopes in his blot- 
ting-book ; while on Reginald's head must be 
the blame if he bores himself or is too much 
neglected. 

Here comes Bertie Vansittart, a man after 
her own heart, inasmuch as he does not do 
things by halves, for his adoration verges 
on idiocy, and his admiration for her beauty 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 89 

is quite unbounded. Neither of these senti- 
ments will last, but, while they do, even 
Lady Julia is satisfied. 

He makes for her at once to-night, look- 
ing neither to right nor left, stands silent 
before her for a minute, as if struck dumb 
at the sight of so much loveliness, and then 
flings himself down at her feet, and worships 
her in looks and words. 

He is tall, lithe and handsome ; the lust of 
the eye is satisfied, the frown leaves her 
haughty brow as he talks to her, and she 
forgets for the moment her crumpled rose- 
leaf, which is the presence of Vega Fitz- 
patrick. 

Lady Hermione effaces herself ; Pussie is 
like a poor little white mouse ; Dottie's 
looks are lowering, and her beetle brows 
meet across her forehead, but whether she 
is ill-tempered or the reverse, happy or dis- 
contented, it is all one to her aunt ; while, as 
for Mr. Mossop, he is to his hostess as if Re 
does not exist. 

Colonel Darner's arrival on the scene com- 
pletes the party, and the procession, shorter 



I9O A WANDERING STAR. 

this time than usual, crosses the round hall 
and enters the dining-room. 

" Who is that remarkably pretty girl ? ' 
asks Mr. Mossop, of Lady Hermione, in a 
discreet whisper. 

The table is a long one, and Vega, who is 
sitting next the master of the house, cannot 
hear it. 

" What remarkably pretty girl are you 
talking about ? ; whispers back Lady 
Hermione, affecting not to know who is 
meant. 

But as his eyes are fixed in an unblinking 
stare on Miss Fitzpatrick, she cannot pre- 
tend to misunderstand for long. 

" Oh ! I see! you are looking at Miss 
Fitzpatrick. Well — yes — I suppose she 
would be called a pretty girl. I can't say I 
admire her much, myself. She is so dread- 
fully pale and thin, and there is so little of 
her. There is a certain amount of the beauty 
of youth, of course, but it won't last. That 
kind of prettiness never does stand any 
wear and tear. For my own part, I never 
can help looking ahead a little, and settling 



A WANDERING STAR. I9I 

in my own mind the people who will lose 
their looks, and the people who will keep 
them to the end, and I can prophesy Miss 
Fitzpatrick's future in one word — nutcrack- 
ers, my dear Mr. Mossop, nutc7'ackers ! ' 

Mr. Mossop always loses his head when 
he enters into conversation w r ith his betters ; 
he is humble enough, and considers as such 
any one who is born in the purple. He is 
positively frightened when he talks to a peer, 
and even a near relation to one has the same 
subduing influence on him ! 

He is ready to believe now that Lady 
Hermione must know better than himself, 
and he would hardly trust the evidence of 
his own eyes against hers. That kind of 
woman, who really moves in the best society, 
and who knows all the great people in 
London, must surely be a good judge. 

A man is so apt, as she says, to be taken 
in by mere prettiness ; and no doubt, now 
that it has been pointed out to him, he can 
see for himself that the pretty chin may per- 
haps be a shade too long, and that it is 
possible that Vega's looks, when she is a 



I92 A WANDERING STAR. 

toothless old woman, may leave much to 
be desired. 

But such a power of looking into the 
future is not granted to most people, and all 
the ordinary observer can see at this moment 
is a blonde head, jolie a croquer, which, in 
the language of a French art critic, "de- 
taches itself admirably " from the dark 
velvet curtain which is drawn across one of 
the tall dining-room windows behind Miss 
Fitzpatrick. 

Vega is talking to the Colonel, and her 
charming face is sweet, and smiling, and 
animated. Only Lady Hermiones eagle 
eye could detect a flaw in the picture. 

" I suppose you must be right," assents 
Mr. Mossop, though rather doubtfully ; it 
takes all his belief in the aristocracy to 
accept Lady Hermione's word as law this 
time. " It mayn't be the very highest type 
of beauty, but I'm glad that you consider 
her pretty, at any rate." 

" Pretty ! oh, yes, of course she's pretty," 
says Lady Hermione, lightly; "it's difficult 
not to be pretty at eighteen. Youth is a 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 93 

beauty of itself" (her ladyship has evidently 
forgotten, as usual, the existence of her own 
by no means attractive children), " but one 
wants something more than that. One likes 
to see a woman with some class about her — 
a woman who will wear well, and who will 
look as handsome at the head of a table at 
five-and-thirty as she did at eighteen." 

Clever Lady Hermione ! Mais on peut- 
Ure plus fin que le monde, mats pas plus fin 
que toztt le monde ! 

Mr. Mossop receives meekly the impres- 
sion she intends to convey, and the ideas she 
wishes to stamp on his brain ; but Dottie, 
who is sitting exactly opposite, and who is 
listening to their conversation with all her 
ears, reads between the lines of the last 
sentence, and perfectly takes in the situation. 
She has caught a few stray words that have 
passed between her mother and aunt, and 
she guesses that the former had just a faint 
hope that Mr. Mossop had been attracted 
by herself. 

She sees that Lady Hermione is nettled 
by his evident admiration of Vega Fitzpat- 

vol. 1. o 



194 A WANDERING STAR. 

rick, and a feeling of jealous antipathy to her 
unconscious rival takes root in her own mind. 
She goes on listening now, for the subject is 
a very interesting one. 

" May I ask you who she is, Lady Her- 
mione ? " says Mr. Mossop, humbly ; " I only 
venture to do so as I have never seen her 
here before, and I don't remember to have 
heard her name." 

" Which isn't very wonderful," answers 
Lady Hermione, who now adopts a some- 
what impressive stage whisper. " She is some 
sort of relation to the Darners, but I think it 
is extremely kind of my sister, and the 
Colonel, to have her over here. The Fitz- 
patricks are not relations of whom they feel 
particularly proud ; in fact, like the rest of the 
family, they had broken with them altogether, 
and it was a mere chance that they ran across 
this girl somewhere or other abroad. I don't 
mind telling you in the strictest confidence 
who she is," and the whisper becomes more 
fraught with meaning than ever. " She is 
the daughter of the notorious Ralph Fitz- 
patrick. " 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 95 

Mr. Mossop makes an effort, but an un- 
successful one, to remember. He cannot 
bear to be ignorant of the name of any one 
who has been notorious among the Upper 
Ten ; he would like to be as well posted up 
in every scandal as Lady Hermione herself, 
but this time his mind is a blank. He can- 
not look wise, or interested, or knowing, for 
he is entirely at sea ! 

Lady Hermione perceives his dilemma, 
and makes things easy for him. 

"To be sure, I forgot," she says, " it must 
have been before your day." 

As a matter of fact, Mr. Mossop is a good 
deal older than herself, but at the period 
when the London world was scandalized over 
Ralph Fitzpatrick's sins, and horrified at the 
public disgrace that fell on him, and merciless 
in the punishment it meted out to him, at 
that time Albert Mossop was a clerk in his 
grandfather's brewery, and a great deal more 
interested in the manufacture of Double XX 
than in London society ! 

" Well, there isn't much to tell you about 
it," she goes on, "though I have always 

o 2 



I96 A WANDERING STAR. 

heard that it made a tremendous stir at the 
time. He was a very well-known man, good- 
looking and plausible, and all that ; but I 
believe, all the same, the very best people 
never fancied him much, — at least so I have 
heard my father say, for I was but a child in 
the schoolroom when it all happened. He 
was detected cheating at cards in the most 
bare-faced fashion. I believe he had been 
at it for years, but he was caught in the 
end. After that, what more is there to 
be said ? Naturally he was cut by every- 
body ; and when England became im- 
possible for him, he went the way of other 
black sheep, and crossed the Channel. Where 
they knocked about, or how they lived, I 
can't tell you. He had a wife, you know, 
and one child, but one never heard his name 
mentioned, or knew if he was alive or dead, 
till one day last autumn when my brother- 
in-law ran against him at Dieppe. The 
father and daughter fastened themselves on 
to him, and Colonel Darner is so good- 
natured he hadn't strength of mind to shake 
them off, though, as you may imagine, the 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 97 

whole thing was a great annoyance to my 
sister. Fitzpatrick died the other day, and 
I believe there was a letter of some sort 
found, asking Colonel Darner to look after 
his daughter. Rather a cool request, I must 
say ; but what could you expect from such a 
man ? So the long and short of it is, 
we have got her over here ; and how 
long she means her visit to last, one can't 
tell." 

Mr. Mossop's beady eyes are fixed on 
Lady Hermione as she glibly gives him her 
version of Mr. Fitzpatrick's fall, and of Vega's 
history, and he sits open-mouthed, listening 
intently. 

He likes being confided in by her ladyship, 
and a society scandal from her lips, especially 
about any one connected in the faintest de- 
gree with her own family, fills him with 
breathless interest. 

Does Vega's beauty seem to him to wane 
as Lady Hermione speaks ? Does he now 
notice the simplicity, almost poverty of her 
dress, which had not struck him before ? 
Does he imagine that he perceives in her the 



198 A WANDERING STAR. 

absence of that "grand air " that distinguishes 
his hostess and her sister? It is quite 
possible, for some eyes can only see through 
other peoples spectacles ! 

Mr. Mossop is not a bad-hearted man ; on 
the contrary he is good-natured, and ready- 
to do any one a good turn if possible. Many 
needy members of the peerage have had 
reason to bless his name, some for sub- 
stantial help, and others for the trouble he 
has taken in indirect ways to advance their 
interests. He has pitch-forked one or two 
particularly hard-up scions of good families 
straight into the Brewery, where under his 
fostering care they have advanced by leaps 
and bounds, and he has been all but publicly 
thanked for his kindness by their relations. 
But, good-natured as he is, he is undoubtedly 
far readier to exert himself for his titled 
friends than for the rest of the world. His 
foible is " big people/' and there is no denying 
that Mr. Mossop is a bit of a snob ! It is 
written in pretty legible characters on his 
outer man, for his appearance is by no means 
distinguished. He is thick-set and heavily 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 99 

built, and there is too much colour on his 
fat face ; his eyes are mean and insignificant, 
and the " feather beds " that surround them 
give him a dull expression. 

But, for all this, it is his clothes that damn 
him in the eyes of those who know ! It is 
not possible for any one to spend more money, 
thought, or time over them than he does, but 
in spite of, or perhaps in consequence of, his 
laboured efforts, he is not a success. Every- 
thing about him is exaggerated, and is either 
too tight or too loose, the patterns too 
noticeable, the checks too large ; even his 
cuffs and collars are too shiny, and his coats 
and hats too new ! His studs are larger than 
studs ought to be, and the three coloured 
pearls that decorate his shirt-front to-night 
are pinker, blacker, and whiter than have 
ever been seen before ! 

His bouquet, straight from Covent Garden, 
is a triumph of the florist's skill, but it is 
three times too big, and the mingled odours 
of gardenias and heliotrope are overpower- 
ing. The scent on his handkerchief does not 
match, and at least half a bottle of " chypre " 



200 A WANDERING STAR. 

must have been poured on it before he came 
downstairs ! 

Altogether he is a man who, in spite of 
the aforesaid kindliness of disposition, sets 
Colonel Darner's teeth on edge ; and even his 
friend, Lady Hermione, as she sweeps across 
the Round Hall when dinner is over, whis- 
pers but one word in her sister's ear, and that 
word is Canaille ! 

The three men whom they leave behind 
them have not much in common, and the 
conversation languishes somewhat. Bertie 
Vansittart hardly opens his lips ; he keeps 
silent, as much from the feeling that he does 
not care to smile in the husband's face, after 
having made love to his wife, as from the 
state of sentimental idiocy to which Lady 
Julia has reduced him. Mr. Mossop harps 
on about Vega Fitzpatrick. In spite of 
Lady Hermione, his mind is still running on 
her. 

" Yes, yes," answers the Colonel, shortly, 
in answer to his inquiries, " she is a very 
pretty girl, and she is a cousin of my own. 
Her mother was a Vivian." 



A WANDERING STAR. 20 T 

" Really ! indeed ! Colonel Darner," says 
Mr. Mossop, feeling much interested ; " I 
was aware that Lord Hautaine was con- 
nected by marriage with your family, but I 
never had the pleasure of meeting any of 
them. Was Miss Fitzpatrick's mother one 
of his family ? ' 

(i She was his daughter. Lady Mary 
Vivian married Fitzpatrick. For any further 
information I must refer you to the Peerage." 

" Then Miss Fitzpatrick is a near relation 
of the Hautaine family ?' asks Mr. Mossop, 
with bated breath. The Hautaine family is 
one of the oldest and most distinguished in 
England, and the name alone strikes awe 
into his heart. 

" Yes, yes ! she's a near relation to the 
whole lot of them," returns the Colonel, 
" but the relationship has been of little use 
to her so far, poor little thing ! Her father 
fell out with the Vivians many years ago, 
and the quarrel was never made up," he 
adds, with the mercy which one man rarely 
fails to show his fellow-man who has gone 
under and who is now dead. 



202 A WANDERING STAR. 

He does not feel inclined to drag to light 
the old scandal, for a man like Mr. Mossop 
to discuss or dissect. 

Colonel Darner had never been a friend of 
Mr. Fitzpatrick in the days when they were 
both young, and his sin had been one for 
which he could feel little mercy ; nevertheless 
he does not care to disinter a family skeleton, 
or gossip over a disgraceful story in the 
present company. 

He changes the subject abruptly, but not 
before his guest thoroughly takes in, and 
gloats over, the information that Vega Fitz- 
patrick is nearly connected with the Peer- 
age ! 

When they join the ladies in the long 
Gallery, the three men fall into their plans, 
and each seems to do exactly what is ex- 
pected of him. Colonel Darner is soon 
immersed in the newspaper ; Bertie Van- 
sittart sits at the feet of his liege lady, and 
they whisper and smile and flirt the rest of 
the evening, while Dottie Langton, who has 
got out the H alma-board, and set up the 
little men, challenges Mr. Mossop to a game. 



A WANDERING STAR. 203 

He falls, but very unwillingly, into the trap. 
In vain has the net been set by the fowler 
in the sight of the bird ! Mr. Mossop, 
though he plays the game mechanically, 
refuses to be in the least degree interested 
in it — does not make himself agreeable to 
his opponent — allows her unheard-of licence 
in the way of ladders— and while her red 
men are unmolested as they slant knowingly 
across the board, and advance as they like 
to their goal, his black ones plod steadily 
and hopelessly on, and he neither knows nor 
cares anything about them ! 

For he sees at some little distance from 
him a lovely face, and he looks at it across 
Miss Dottie's square shoulders a great deal 
more than he looks at the Halma-board. 

Dottie waxes cross and sulky, and when 
she has won the set without a struggle on 
Mr. Mossop's part, she angrily rattles the 
men into their box, shuts up the board with 
a bang, and walks off in a temper. 

The next day, "the blessed Sabbath," is 
as a rule not a particularly peaceful one at 
Conholt. Lady Julia, bored, and unem- 



204 A WANDERING STAR. 

ployed, is generally in the worst of tempers. 
Colonel Darner, who hates pen and ink, and 
business in general, is overwhelmed by the 
accumulations of the past week, which have 
been put aside from one hunting day to 
another, and which now demand his atten- 
tion. It is the day that Lady Hermione 
generally chooses on which to add up her 
unpaid bills, and study the miserable balance 
that figures in her bankers book, and she 
rails at her ill-fortune, and bemoans her hard 
lot, till a battle royal ensues between her- 
self and her sister, Lady Julia loudly de- 
claring that " Hermione" has brought her 
troubles on herself, and Lady Hermione 
protesting that she is the victim of circum- 
stances. 

This particular Sunday, on the contrary, 
everything seems to go on wheels ; though 
full early in the day to say how it may end, 
the Church-going party from Conholt, as 
they walk through the leafless woods, have 
an air of pious cheerfulness about them 
which at least promises well. 

Lady Julia, brave in velvet and furs, has 



A WANDERING STAR. 205 

Bertie Vansittart for her companion and 
prayer-book bearer. It would be curious to 
count the number of young men who have 
carried her prayer-book to the pretty little 
church at the edge of the park, in the last 
dozen years that she has "lived and loved' 
at Conholt ! She has changed lovers often 
in that time, but she clings to old ways and 
traditions, and likes them all to conduct 
themselves on much the same lines. 

She has walked to church with so many ; 
they have said their prayers side by side, 
have sung out of the same hymn-book, and 
Lady Julia, under the combined influence of 
love and religion, has felt calm, exalted, and 
a good deal better than her neighbours for 
half an hour at least ! 

Lady Hermione, in plain, almost rough 
clothes, looks young, lithe and active, in a 
gown and jacket of puritanical simplicity, 
which, however, sets off her fine figure in a 
way which anything more rich and less 
clinging would not do so thoroughly. She 
has Mr. Mossop in tow ; she knows that he 
would never of his own accord seek the 



206 A WANDERING STAR. 

company of her youngest daughter, and she 
tells herself that he must be educated up to 
Dottie if anything satisfactory is to come of 
it ; so, rather than that he should fall to the 
lot of Vega Fitzpatrick, she draws him to 
herself, and he hangs on her words as she 
takes him to the charmed inner circle of the 
highest world, and tells him strange stories, 
in which none of the actors are under the 
rank of a Viscount ! 

The three girls cluster round Colonel 
Darner, and make locomotion difficult for 
him in the narrow path that is only meant 
for two ; but he likes their company, is 
amused by Dottie's cynical remarks, and 
holds Vega's pretty hand in his, as they 
stroll along to church, judiciously keeping 
a good deal in the rear of the more im- 
portant members of the party. 

The March sun has no heat, but it shines 
brightly, and glints down on them through 
the leafless branches of beech and elm. It 
turns a bed of daffodils into a sea of gold, 
and makes the swelling buds of larch and 
lime look like points of emeralds. The 



A WANDERING STAR. 207 

ribes, brown and leafless, has already put 
forth a few pink tassels ; the catkin's silvery 
feathers and velvety clusters hang on bare 
boughs, and among luxuriant cushions of 
primrose leaves may be found already a few 
pale flowers. 

It seems like the very beginning of every- 
thing. The world is to be created once 
more ! Winter is over and done. Spring, 
blessed Spring ! is in sight, and " the sing- 
ing of birds M is again heard in the land. 

Everything that lives seems to feel new 
life, and wakes from the sleep of winter ; 
while the blood runs more merrily in the 
veins of the young and strong. It mantles 
on Vegas cheek, her eyes shine brightly, 
and the boisterous breeze takes sad liberties 
with her fair hair. 

And now they hear the tinkle of the 
church-bell, and they leave their woodland 
path and enter the churchyard by a wooden 
door, of which the Colonel has the key. 
One by one they file along the narrow path 
that leads between the swelling mounds on 
either side ; there are some crosses here and 



208 A WANDERING STAR. 

there, but few more ambitious monuments, 
for the " rude forefathers of the hamlet ' 
seem to have been satisfied with but little ; 
" a low grave studded with daisies " is all they 
aspired to, and even in these days of crema- 
tion it is, after all, the ideal resting-place. 

The sons and grandsons of those who 
sleep under these mounds are standing 
about in the churchyard, and gather round 
the porch ; for though the tolling of what 
sounds like an exaggerated sheep-bell has 
ceased, single strokes ring out, and till the 
last has been struck the men do not deem it 
incumbent on them to enter the holy edifice ! 
It is not considered womanly for their wives 
and daughters to loiter with them ; they pass 
into church decorously, and are by this time 
sitting discreetly in their accustomed places ; 
but it is not essential, from their point of 
view, for their mankind to join them till the 
last moment. Most of these take off their 
hats, and all have their fill of staring, as the 
Conholt party pass along. Two or three 
very old men in smock frocks stand with 
bare heads, as in the presence of royalty ; 



A WANDERING STAR 209 

for have they not seen " the Colonel's father 
— ay, and his father again afore him ! ' 
and were they not taught in the good old 
days to order themselves " lowly and rever- 
ently to all their betters," in the most literal 
sense of that injunction ? 

" None of your new-fangled notions for 
me," is the favourite saying of old Gaffer 
Drew, the eldest of these patriarchs. " We 
was never brought up to think one man was 
as good as another — ay ! and a heap sight 
better too ! We didn't set ourselves up agin 
our spiritual pastors and masters, no more 
nor we thought we know'd better than them 
as had lived longer in the world nor our- 
selves. But there, there, that's how it is 
now-a-days ; 'taint the young as makes way 
for the old, but the old as has to make way 
for the young." " She do be a fine figger of 
a woman," is his present criticism, as Lady 
Julia sweeps into church; " she's as proud 
as the Queen on her throne, and holds up 
her head as high too ! But I calls that 
right and proper, and befitting of her high 
station, that I do. If the likes o' them as 

VOL. I. p 



2IO A WANDERING STAR. 

lives at the Park don't feel better than their 
neighbours, who would, I should like to 
know ? " 

"She treats us all like dirt," returns a 
more Republican spirit, on whose head the 
snows of eighty-five winters had fallen ; 
"but it's deeds, and not words, that we poor 
folks want. Bless you ! what good do soft 
words do us ? We gets enough o' them 
from t' Parson's lady. 'How do you do, 
Gaffer Mursell ? ' says she, quite soft like ; 
' I 'opes as 'ow your rheumatics is better.' 
But nothing comes of it, not even the where- 
withal to buy a pint o' yell, or a screw o' 
baccy — a pair o' mittens, perhaps, ivery 
other Christmas, but what's mittens ? Now 
my Lady, she comes along the other day, a- 
driving of her black ponies, and I up and 
hobbles to the gate, as well as I can, to set 
it open for her. ' How do you do, Mursell, 
for ye are Mursell, ain't yer? ' says her Lady- 
ship, quite smart like, and afore I has time 
to answer she outs with her purse. ' 'Ere's 
'arf-a-suvereign,' says she, 'to drink my 
health in,' and then she's off like the wind. 



A WANDERING STAR. 2 I I 

That's what / call bein' a lady, and behavin' 
as sich — that I do." 

" We've no more time for your talk, 
Gaffer," says old Drew crossly, for he feels 
annoyed that Lady Julia's half-sovereign 
" should have gone to the likes of old Mur- 
sell." " T' parson's in the pulpit, we must 
be a-goin' in." 

The church has a mouldy smell, the ser- 
vice is simple to the verge of carelessness, 
and, with the exception of the Conholt party, 
who have the whole gallery, in a recess on 
one side, to themselves, the congregation is 
a poor one. 

Lady Julia looks down on her fellow- 
worshippers from her corner of the great 
family pew with the air of a spectator at 
some function in which she takes no part ; 
she has the languidlv indifferent air of a 
mere looker-on. Bertie Vansittart sits close 
to her, and gazes at her even when she 
bends the knee as a mere formality — a sort 
of travesty of prayer. 

Lady Hermione continues her schemes, 
and the great finance question fills her mind 

p 2 



2 12 A WANDERING STAR. 

to the exclusion of more pious thoughts. 
Colonel Darner jumps imaginary fences, and 
remembers " big places ' that he got over in 
some of last week's runs, instead of attend- 
ing to the sermon ; while the rest of the 
party make themselves as comfortable as 
possible, and survey their poorer brethren 
with amusement, curiosity, or contempt, as 
their inclination prompts them. 

Their poorer brethren and sisters, for 
their part, cast many upward looks in their 
direction. Gaffers Mursell and Drew blink 
up at " the quality " quite impartially. One 
or two of the younger men nudge each other 
as they spy Vega's pretty face. " She be a 
beauty, she be," they whisper to each other. 
The women take stock of the clothes ; and 
the doctor's daughter has her eyes fixed on 
Lady Julia's hat, and resolves to copy that 
masterpiece of Virot in some materials that 
she has at home. The small feathers that 
adorn it have a sheen on them the like of 
which she has never seen before. They 
take the colour of the heart of a ruby or an 
emerald, and have a deep metallic lustre as 



A WANDERING STAR. 217, 

the light falls on them ; but, no doubt, the 
same effect could be obtained by a cock's- 
tail plume, or a magpies wing, and she 
knows how to procure both — anyhow, she 
means to try ! 

The service has been said and sung, the 
wooden plate has been passed from hand to 
hand, and has reaped a comparatively rich 
harvest ; the sermon has been droned 
through — and now the Darners and their 
friends are on their homeward journey. 
Vega feels disappointed ; for, in spite of her 
attempt to get to Colonel Darner's side 
again, she is checkmated by Mr. Mossop, 
who joins her, and will not be shaken off. 
She has no particular dislike to him — she 
knows him too little for that — but she feels a 
vague distaste for his society ; and if she 
cannot walk with the Colonel, she would 
much prefer to loiter through the woods 
alone. 

The daffodils that nod their hardy heads 
in the brisk breeze — the silver birch, whose 
every branch seems traced with an etching- 
pen against the cloudless sky — the birds 



2 14 A WANDERING STAR. 

that sing on the bare branches — the squirrel 
that nestles in the leafless arms of the great 
oak — even the rabbits that scuttle across the 
path, or dot the grass of the park — all these 
sights and sounds would fill her with plea- 
sure were she free and alone ; but she finds 
none in listening to Mr. Mossop's laboured 
sentences, and no interest in hearing of the 
grandeur of strangers who, he tells her, are 
her near relations. 

" Lord Hautaine ? ' she repeats, in 
answer to one of his many questions. 
" Yes ; I suppose he is my uncle, but I can 
tell you nothing about him. I have never 
set eyes on him, and I never heard my — I 
have hardly ever heard his name men- 
tioned." 

Mr. Mossop feels quite overcome. That 
the goods with which the gods have pro- 
vided this girl, in the shape of great rela- 
tions, should be thus ignored, fills him with 
actual sorrow. 

He remembers an old proverb often 
quoted by his grandfather, " Heaven sends 
almonds to those who have not teeth to 



A WANDERING STAR. 2 15 

crack them " ; and he pictures to himself 
how he would have valued such an uncle ! 
A peer of the realm has a distinct value in 
Mr. Mossop's eyes. He would joyfully give 
a handsome sum down to have one — and even 
the least among them — for a near relation ! 

" My dear young lady," he says impres- 
sively, " it is the worst policy in the world to 
drop your relations — and such relations ! 
You should cultivate them, Miss Fitzpatrick 
— you should cultivate them." 

Vega's laugh rings out free and joyous, as 
much at the earnest expression of his heavy 
countenance, as at the words themselves. 

" And how are they to be cultivated ? ' 
she asks mirthfully. " How am I to set 
about the business ?" 

She pauses all of a sudden. It does not 
seem quite so much of a joke to her when 
she thinks about it. It becomes, all at once, 
extraordinary, now that the idea is forced 
upon her, that she should not be acknow- 
ledged by those to whom she is bound by 
ties of blood, and that she should be a 
stranger to her mother's people. 



2l6 A WANDERING STAR. 

If "the fathers have eaten sour grapes," it 
seems hard that " the children's teeth should 
be ' set on edge ' ' ; and a bitter feeling 
towards those who have deserted her 
springs up in her heart. 

It is not likely that she would confide in 
Mr. Mossop. Nevertheless, the sudden 
vein of thought that his words have struck 
puts pathos into her large eyes as she turns 
them on him, and he straightway forgets her 
great relations and her grievous sin in 
allowing herself to be dropped by them, and, 
for the first time in his life, he falls in love ! 
really, genuinely in love ! — in love without 
any idea of prudence or precedence, without 
reference to the peerage, and with no infor- 
formation gleaned from the pages of that 
venerated book to guide him. 

And who shall limit the force of the 
tender passion, or own its sway over those 
alone who are young and well-favoured ? 

The power of love is not so circum- 
scribed, for the mature heart of forty- 
five can, no doubt, beat wildly and pas- 
sionately, and old pulses, before now, 



A WANDERING STAR. 21 7 

have been known to go irregularly and 
unevenly. 

Youth, hot youth, may hold its sides and 
point the finger of scorn when the mature 
and middle-aged fall victims to that which, 
in their arrogance, they would reserve for 
themselves alone ; but their mockery is 
unavailing. The disease is common to all, 
and is, indeed, most deadly when taken late 
in life ! 

What matters it that Mr. Mossop has not 
been cast in the mould of manly beauty — that 
he is not of the stuff of which heroes of romance 
and troubadours have been fashioned from 
time immemorial — that he has never in his 
youngest days been the beloved of women, 
and, indeed, on the contrary, has, up to now, 
been waging a successful war against the 
female sex, and has looked on them all as 
the sworn foes of a rich, eligible, and single 
man. 

So far from loving any of them, his hand 
has been against every woman — against the 
astute and w r ary Dowagers who had told 
him so many pleasant things about himself, 



2l8 A WANDERING STAR. 

who had been abnormally hospitable and 
kind to him, and so very confiding whenever 
they could throw one of their daughters into 
his society — against the handsome women, 
widowed or single, of a certain age, who had 
done their best to turn his pudding-head, and 
to bring the Lord of the Brewery to their feet 
— against the pretty blondes, brunettes, or 
auburn-locked, who had been urged on by 
their respective families to make up to him, 
and who had, in two or three instances, been 
all but successful. But the prey had escaped 
them all at the critical moment. He knew 
his own value, and had enough of the mer- 
cantile spirit of his late grandfather to have 
no intention of letting himself go under his 
price! If a Dowager Duchess had passed 
by, and had entered for the race, the prize 
might have been hers, for Mr. Mossop 
could not have resisted her advances ; but 
as there was none available, and as for the 
most part the aspirants to his hand had 
been needy and distant scions of good 
families, he had stood steadfast and 
guarded his liberty. The Towers was 



A WANDERING STAR. 2IQ, 

still without a mistress, and Mr. Mossop 
without a mate. 

It cannot be gainsaid, however, that he 
now falls in love genuinely and frankly. 
Vega's beauty has begun, and her sweetness 
has completed, what the plots and schemes 
directed against him for twenty-five years 
failed to accomplish, while there is no doubt 
that the great name of Hautaine — a name to 
conjure with — has counted for something 
with him too. 

" I am going away to-morrow," he says to 
his companion, ruefully ; " but it doesn't 
really matter whether I am here or not, 
for, as far as I can see, it is nearly impossible 
to set eyes on you. Your cousins seem to be 
quite invisible, and I have been backwards 
and forwards constantly to Conholt lately, 
after hunting and that sort of thing, and I 
have never even caught sight of you before 
this time. What on earth do you do -with 
yourselves, and where are you to be 
found ? " 

" We're kept a good deal in the back- 
ground, certainly," says Vega, merrily, as 



2 20 A WANDERING STAR. 

she turns her lovely, laughing eyes on his 
dull, inexpressive countenance — all uncon- 
scious of the flame she is fanning ; " but 
those who seek us can find us. We're not 
imagined to be seen at all, but we haven't 
yet been given invisible jackets ! Seriously 
speaking, we have the schoolroom to our- 
selves ; but I don't think the visitors at 
Conholt are expected to come there. I am 
sure Lady Julia wouldn't approve of their 
doing so." 

Mr. Mossop is quite sure of that also, but 
love makes him bold. 

" Perhaps not, Miss Fitzpatrick, but — but 
— are you fond of chocolate ? ' he asks, 
abruptly. The unexpected question makes 
her merrier than ever. 

" Of course I am," she says ; " and as for 
Dottie, I never saw any one who could eat 
so many chocolate creams in so short a 
time." 

" That will do," he answers, as triumph- 
antly as if he had gained a decided ad- 
vantage ; " I will bring you and Miss Dottie 
the biggest box I can find the next time I 



A WANDERING STAR. 22 1 

come to Conholt. Surely, that will be a 
kind of excuse for coming up to the school- 
room to pay you a visit. Shall I be a wel- 
come visitor there, Miss Fitzpatrick ? " 

His eyes are too small and too sunk in 
fat even to leer. She sees no more ex- 
pression in his face than was there before. 

" Welcome ! and with a big box of choco- 
late ! If you have any doubt on the subject, 
ask Dottie. Dottie — Dottie," she calls out 
to the girl, who is lagging behind them 
sulky and alone, and to Mr. Mossop's dis- 
appointment and annoyance, his tete-a-tete 
with Vega is at an end, for the two girls 
chatter beside him till they reach the house, 
which was not at all what he intended when 
he offered his dole of sweetstuffs. 



END OF VOL. I, 



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